Risks of Giving Lawmakers a Raise

A new study finds that higher salaries for legislators in the U.S. are associated with more time fundraising for themselves.

It is a basic principle of economics that people respond to incentives—but they don’t always respond in the way that you would think.

A new study on the salaries of state legislators is a case in point. Previous research found that higher pay for public officials was associated with more qualified candidates, more closely contested elections and better performance in office.

But those studies were mostly done abroad. The new study found something very different in the U.S.: Higher legislator salaries are associated with more time spent trolling for campaign contributions, “particularly on fundraising for themselves (as opposed to for their party).” Higher pay was also associated with lawmakers spending less time on legislative business. The study was conducted by an American business professor at the University of Toronto and a Canadian business professor at the University of California, San Diego.