Campaign Finance Rules and Wealth of Politicians

Facing Inequality Series

In many countries, the political elites appear to be dominated by wealthy individuals. One commonly cited reason is the nature of the campaign finance system. Weak limits on campaign spending and rules protecting the role of outside funding may be especially advantageous for well-off candidates, given their greater ability to self-finance and stronger connections to deep-pocketed donors. While intuitive, this conjecture has scarcely been studied systematically across countries due to the lack of comprehensive data on politicians’ wealth. At the same time, insights on the topic from the U.S. are difficult to generalize from its highly idiosyncratic campaign finance regime. Drawing on newly-collected data from asset disclosures in a number of countries around the world, the paper examines cross-nationally the extent to which the variation in elected officials’ wealth is correlated with differences in limits on campaign spending. The paper further explores potential mechanisms by which campaign spending caps affect the composition of political elites by exploiting the recent campaign finance reforms enacted in Brazil and Chile. 

About the Speakers: 

Marko Klašnja 

Marko Klašnja is an assistant professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and the Government Department. He holds a PhD in political science (NYU, 2015). In 2014-2015, Marko was a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, Princeton. His research focuses on democratic accountability and the inequalities in political representation, with a special focus on the electoral fortunes of corrupt politicians, the role of parties in democratic accountability, the causes and consequences of politicians' wealth, and the political attitudes and preferences of wealthy individuals. At Georgetown, Marko teaches courses on comparative political economy and quantitative research methods. 

Nina Eichacker 

Nina Eichacker is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Rhode Island. She earned her PhD at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her work synthesizes Post Keynesian economic theory with International Political Economy to better understand the effects of globalization, financial liberalization, and public intervention in neoliberalism and beyond. Her teaching interests lie in critical macrofinance, money and banking, and the economics of globalization. 

Tim Shenk

Tim Shenk is an assistant professor in the department of history at GW and co-editor of Dissent. He is currently working on two books. The first, based on his dissertation and under contract with Princeton University Press, examines the emergence of the idea of 

“the economy” in the United States during the twentieth century. The second explores the intellectual history of the American political elite from the writing of the Constitution down to the present. Tentatively titled The Golden Line: The People, The Powerful, and the American Political Tradition, it is under contract with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. 

Trevor Jackson 

Trevor Jackson is an assistant professor at GWU who works on early modern European economic history, with an emphasis on inequality and financial crisis. His dissertation, “Markets of Exception: An Economic History of Impunity in Britain and France, 1720-1830” examines how changes in the scope for prosecutorial discretion, technical complexity, and the international mobility of capital diffused the capacity to act with impunity in the economy across the very long eighteenth century. The project argues that impunity has shifted from the sole possession of a legally-immune sovereign to a functional characteristic of technically-skilled professional managers of capital, to an imagined quality of markets themselves, such that a constituent element of the modern economic sphere is that within it, great harm can and will happen to great many people, and nobody will be at fault. 

Dr. Jackson has taught courses on international economic history ranging from the early modern period to the twentieth century, as well as courses on capitalism and inequality, the history of economic crisis, and the history of human rights. Prior to joining the faculty at the George Washington University, he lectured at the University of California, Berkeley. 

James E. Foster 

James E. Foster is the Oliver T. Carr Professor of International Affairs and Professor of Economics at George Washington University. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Cornell University and holds a Doctorate Honoris Causa from Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo (Mexico). 

Professor Foster's research focuses on welfare economics — using economic tools to evaluate and enhance the wellbeing of people. His joint 1984 Econometrica paper (with Joel Greer and Erik Thorbecke) is one of the most cited papers on poverty. It introduced the FGT Index, which has been used in thousands of studies and was employed in targeting the Progresa CCT program in México. Other research includes work on economic inequality with Amartya Sen; on the distribution of human development with Luis Felipe Lopez-Calva and Miguel Szekely; on multidimensional poverty with Sabina Alkire; and on literacy with Kaushik Basu. Foster regularly teaches introductory and doctoral courses on international development and each spring joins with Professor Basu in presenting an undergraduate course on Game Theory and Strategic Thinking, to which staff and Board members of the World Bank are also invited. 

Professor Foster is also Research Fellow at the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), Department of International Development, Oxford University, and a member of the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity (HCEO) Working Group, Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics, University of Chicago. This year he is serving on the World Bank’s Commission on Global Poverty. 

Co-Sponsors

The series is co-sponsored by the GW Interdisciplinary Inequality Series, co-organized by Professor Jackson from the Department of History and Professor Bryan Stuart from the Department of Economics.