Abstract for: U.S. Campaign Finance and Institutional Corruption in Public Policy

Studies of a wide range of complex problems involving environmental, social, and economic factors often show a significant disconnect among expertís views, the wishes of the general public, and the legislation that is ultimately passed. The issue of climate change, for example, has clear policy recommendations from scientists and other experts, and acknowledgement by the public that some action must be taken. However, suitable legislation lags both the science and public support. The consequences of such disconnects are reflected in declining polls of trust in government, and in a recent study showing that average citizens now have little to no impact on government policy compared to economic elites and lobbying groups, which enjoy significant influence. This paper explores how the structural relationships between campaign finance and economic elites produces an institutionalized form of corruption in the policy making process. The model demonstrates how public opinion impacts the cost of reaching voters, which in turn reinforces the corrupting influence of elite contributions. We then examine different model policies that could affect the future of public policy making, and discuss the need for better data and further research on strategies for mitigating the influence of money in politics.