Individual campaign contribution limits represent a critical step toward a better campaign finance system, giving states the opportunity to promote public confidence in government by ensuring that no individual donor is able to unduly influence the political system. As a joint report from Demos and U.S. Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, Education Fund states, “A campaign finance system that empowers average citizens … can promote political equality, enable candidates and elected officials to spend more time reaching out to a broad range of constituents, and better align policy outcomes with public preferences.” This not only has symbolic importance; it also has a key impact on electoral outcomes. According to a 2009 Brennan Center report, low contribution limits allow challengers to compete with incumbent state legislators.
State campaign contribution caps remain a patchwork, with state contribution limits varying widely by level of election and source of contribution. In this report, campaign contribution limits are assessed by looking only at a state’s limits for individual contributions to candidates at the top of the ticket. In some state laws, gubernatorial candidates are specified; in others, there is a generic statewide candidate limit. In all cases, this report assesses the top in-state campaign contribution limit, comparing it with the current federal individual campaign contribution permissible to a candidate’s campaign.
For a more detailed explanation of each factor, including citations, please download the full report.
While this report touches only on individual donors, states must assess the whole range of campaign contributors and targets, setting appropriate limits for each. The cost of a campaign varies wildly among states and, within states, among levels of election; it is beyond the scope of this report to prescribe a specific, blanket dollar figure. The limits should, however, be low enough to encourage broad participation, to ensure that nobody can exercise undue influence on politicians and the political system, and—where available—to encourage candidate participation in public campaign financing programs.
Click here to see a full list of policy recommendations to improve the health of state democracies based on the findings of this report.