Money in Politics

The mission of Purchasing Power: The Brennan Center’s Money in Politics Blog is to publish well-informed commentary, fresh questions, and new answers about the facts of money in politics.  We are interested in evidence-based inquiry and conclusions, as opposed to mere theory or conviction.  What do we know, and how do we know it? We hope this commentary will provide insight into the events of the day.  Americans face a steady flow of news about record political fundraising and spending, policy battles between the donor elite and the non-donor majority, special industry influence of government insiders, public corruption, and more.

The views expressed by blog contributors are the authors’ own and not necessarily the views of the Brennan Center. 

Want to write for us?  By submitting any material to Purchasing Power, you agree to the terms and conditions for contributors. Please read the blog's mission statement and submission guidelines before submitting, and send all submissions (or pitches) to

Announcing the Launch of Purchasing Power: The Brennan Center’s Money in Politics Blog

The Brennan Center for Justice launches a conversation about money in politics and the influences it creates in policy and political power. [Read More]


The social welfare group has spent millions of dollars to promote President Trump’s SCOTUS nominees and his proposals to roll back immigration, taxes, and healthcare. Despite its proximity to the most powerful elected official in the nation, the group does not disclose its donors — and that raises serious corruption and ethics concerns. [Read More]

A recent research paper looking at election expenditure data from 2010 to 2014 finds that the effect on election outcomes of campaign expenditures is five times as much as that of independent expenditures. This has implications for independent expenditure groups’ current and future strategies to mitigate the disproportionately large influence of outside groups on electoral politics. [Read More]

The co-authors of a recently published book, Unequal and Unrepresented: Political Inequality and the People’s Voice in the New Gilded Age, discuss how increased electoral spending exacerbates political inequalities. The book — drawing from three decades of research on politically active individuals and organizations — offers evidence of a concentrated advantage in electoral politics conferred upon the wealthy and considers how these disparities endanger American democracy. [Read More]


A May FEC decision allowing federal candidates to spend campaign funds on childcare could make running for office significantly more accessible for parents. But its impact will be limited — so candidates and lawmakers are proposing reforms at the state and local levels. [Read More]


Campaign finance reforms at the state and local level could move the needle and position these offices as accessible stepping stones with far-reaching impact. [Read More]


As midterm elections draw near, media reports on record high campaign spending by new and old political players underscore an emerging trend identified by Mooney as the rise of the Superrich Neophyte Candidate (SNC). In an examination of Illinois’s current (and very expensive) gubernatorial race, Mooney argues that high-spending gubernatorial candidates who have some government experience are more likely to succeed in office than those with none at all. [Read More]


The IRS will no longer require certain nonprofits to report the names of their donors. This rule change will make it easier for secret and foreign money to flood our political system. States and localities will need to push back with forceful transparency measures. [Read More]



How to Empower Non-Wealthy Americans Without Going to Court

Tabatha Abu El-Haj

As Justice Kennedy’s retirement renews focus on how the Supreme Court has enabled unlimited special interest spending and endangered voting rights, law professor Abu El-Haj urges reformers to seek empowerment solutions that do not rely on the courts. Scholars should study relatively robust sites of civic engagement and legislative responsiveness to identify what works, she argues. [Read More]


Don’t Talk About Money! Campaign Spending in the Colorado Gubernatorial Primary

Seth Masket

In 2018, Colorado’s gubernatorial primary candidates fundraised and spent record amounts. This was a big point of contention for candidates in Colorado’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, where Rep. Jared Polis, the race’s biggest spender, secured a win. Seth Masket explores the various roles of money in this election and presents campaign donations as a form of public service. [Read More]


The Electoral Politics of Consumer Credit

According to a new statistical study, consumers of color and those who earn low incomes stand to lose, while lenders stand to gain, when their home-state U.S. senator rises through the ranks. Lenders protected by powerful politicians appear able to reduce compliance with fair-lending rules without expecting to be penalized. Reductions in fair lending are most pronounced in areas where banks have a record of giving campaign donations to these politicians. These findings, coupled with recent deregulatory moves by the Trump Treasury Department, have broad implications for the future of laws that serve to combat discriminatory lending practices. [Read More]


Voters Still Punish Scandalous Politicians, but Donors Protect Them

In recent years, expanded media coverage of national politics and the 24-hour news cycle have ensured that the public never miss a political scandal. Hamel and Miller study how the mass voting public react to such scandals and highlight factors that drive donor behavior in their aftermath. [Read More]


FEC Childcare Ruling Could Lower Institutional Barriers to Office

The Federal Election Commission ruled last month that candidates for federal office can spend campaign funds on childcare. In a male-dominated, aging Congress, the ruling could carve out some space for more representative newcomers. [Read More]


Trump Foundation and the Use of Nonprofits as Slush Funds

The remarkable case against a sitting president points to a larger issue in our politics: The phenomenon of politicians misusing nonprofits for their own gain is becoming increasingly common. [Read More]


The Curious Campaign Role of Donald Trump’s Foundation

In an extensive complaint and supporting documents, New York’s Attorney General says Trump’s foundation made nearly $3 million in illegal contributions to his campaign. Trump calls the suit “ridiculous” and says he won’t settle. [Read More]


Public Support for Campaign Finance Reform: New Evidence to Help Solve a Festering Problem

Paul D. JorgensenGeoboo SongMichael D. Jones

Utilizing a new dataset and original survey design, Jorgensen, Song and Jones achieve unexpected findings of use to campaign finance reformers. Contrary to much of the existing scholarship, they find that providing voters with more information can increase support for reform, and that framing the problem as a “broken system” that incentivizes elected officials to focus on fundraising instead of serving the majority of constituents — rather than as corruption — is most persuasive. [Read More]


It is not the money. It is what it does.

Abu El-Haj argues that not all money in politics is created equal. Some political spending amplifies the voices of the super-wealthy few. But money invested in building sustainable political consciousness and voter engagement is money well spent from a democratic standpoint. [Read More]


One Reason Trump Tax Cuts Are Benefiting Big Firms More than Anyone Else

As most Americans wait for the touted growth to kick in from the Trump tax cuts, we turn to tax scholar Jenny Brown to learn more about how large businesses derive significant tax benefits from persistent political giving[Read More]

Voucher-Funded Seattle Candidates Relied More on Constituents than on Non-Constituent Donors

Early evidence shows public financing vouchers that enable all voters to participate in campaign giving encourages candidates to focus more on constituents than on faraway donors[Read More]

Democracy Vouchers Broadened Seattle's 2017 Donor Base

The results are in from the country's first ever election publicly funded by vouchers--the 2017 Seattle municipal elections. Heerwig and McCabe find that the city's Democracy Voucher program has helped bring more donors who are not wealthy into the campaign finance system, but more work remains to achieve a fair and representative system. [Read More]

How Do Campaign Finance Regulations Affect Upper Class Bias in Political Power?

Witko's research shows that campaign finance regulation, even if weak, plays a role in the overall mobilization of organizations and bias with in campaign finance systems. However, campaign finance can be associated with access, which can give upper class contributors greater opportunity to shape policy. [Read More]


Trump Consumer Chief's Advice to Bankers Raises Questions About How Money Buys Political Influence

Mick Mulvaney, President Trump's interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, recently told banking executives that, while in Congress, he would turn away any lobbyist who had not contributed to his campaign. He urged the lenders to use their influence to get lawmakers to gut the agency. But what about working Americans and debtors-can their influence measure up? [Read More]


Beyond Campaign Contributions: Employee Mobilization as Corporate Political Power

Corporate employee mobilization has become an increasingly common mechanism for businesses to become involved in changing politics. Setting limits on employee mobilization is an important way to ensure all American citizens are represented equally. [Read More]


What are the Russians Up To?

There are hints that Russia’s meddling did not end with Trump’s election. [Read More]


How the Trump Team Opened the Door to Questions about Financial Conflicts

The Trump administration’s refusal of advice from the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics leaves Americans wondering about improper connections between financial interests and government action. [Read More]


Will Strengthening Party Fundraising Result in More Moderate Politics?

Hassell's research suggests that party leaders connected to the party, that have ideological preferences, support candidates based on the party's preferences rather than choosing more moderate candidates to gain votes in the general election. [Read More]