The Journal of Politics


Campaign Spending, Diminishing Marginal Returns, and Campaign Finance Restrictions in Judicial Elections

Chris W. Bonneaua1 and Damon M. Canna2

a1 University of Pittsburgh

a2 Utah State University


For years, scholars of elections have argued about whether campaign finance limitations adversely affect electoral competition. In this article, we examine how the institutional campaign finance restrictions differentially affect the performance of incumbents and challengers. Using elections for the state high court bench between 1990 and 2004, we demonstrate that candidate spending in judicial elections has diminishing marginal returns, but that the returns to challenger spending diminish more slowly than incumbent spending. Since this is the case, campaign finance restrictions that limit candidate spending disproportionately harm challengers, increasing the incumbency advantage and decreasing electoral competition. More specifically, we show that states with more stringent contribution limits have lower levels of candidate spending, and these restrictions thus put challengers at a competitive disadvantage.

(Online publication December 12 2011)


Chris W. Bonneau is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260.

Damon Cann is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-0725.