Money in politics is not a strictly American phenomenon. In France, despite strong campaign finance laws, campaign donations have a direct influence on legislative and municipal election results.
What is the price of a vote? This paper investigates this consequential controversy by analyzing a new comprehensive dataset of all French municipal and legislative elections over the 1993-2014 period. We begin by documenting the evolution of campaign finance in France, and show that both the amount and sources of campaign contributions vary widely from one candidate to another, in particular depending on their political party. We then turn to the empirical analysis and tackle a number of empirical challenges. First, we rely on recent methodological innovations to handle the special characteristics of multiparty data. Second, to overcome the endogenous nature of campaign spending, we propose a new instrument based on a change in legislation. We find that an increase in spending per voter consistently increases a candidate’s vote share both for municipal and legislative elections, and that the effect is heterogeneous depending on the parties and on the sources of campaign funding. According to our estimations, the price of a vote is about 6 euros for the legislative elections, and 32 euros for the municipal ones. Simulations show that small changes in spending patterns and caps can have a large impact on electoral outcomes and seats. Our results suggest that political finance needs to be tightly regulated.