Learning from Campaign Finance Disclosures

Emory Law Journal, 2021

USC CLASS Research Papers Series No. CLASS20-10

USC Legal Studies Research Papers Series No. 20-10

46 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2020 Last revised: 11 Jun 2020

See all articles by Abby K. Wood

Abby K. Wood

University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Date Written: June 10, 2020


In an age of dark money – the anonymous political spending facilitated by gaps in our campaign finance disclosure laws after Citizens United – the Supreme Court’s campaign finance disclosure jurisprudence may be on a collision course with campaign finance disclosure laws. The collision can be avoided if the court right-sizes its assumptions around the informational benefits of campaign finance disclosure. It is therefore urgent to help the court understand what we learn from campaign finance transparency.

Campaign finance transparency teaches us more than one-dimensional information about how progressive or conservative a candidate is. It also helps us learn about candidate type. As I explain in this Article, social scientists, including myself, have run several studies examining voter learning from campaign finance information. When voters learn about a candidate’s position with regards to dark money, they learn and vote differently than if they did not have that information. And, as I show using experimental methods and using data from the FEC audits in the 1970s, where campaign finance compliance information is available to voters, voters reward over compliance and punish failure to comply. In other words, transparency about campaign finance disclosure and compliance informs voters.

These findings point to useful policy innovations for states and cities while the federal government is unable or unwilling to regulate, such as “disclosure disclaimers” and campaign finance audits. I explain implications for the courts, campaigns, and policymakers, as well as limitations on the argument.

Keywords: transparency, campaign finance, compliance, disclosure, dark money, First Amendment, Buckley v. Valeo, Citizens United v. FEC

JEL Classification: K42

Suggested Citation

Wood, Abby K., Learning from Campaign Finance Disclosures (June 10, 2020). Emory Law Journal, 2021, USC CLASS Research Papers Series No. CLASS20-10, USC Legal Studies Research Papers Series No. 20-10, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3623512

Abby K. Wood (Contact Author)

University of Southern California Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

HOME PAGE: http://weblaw.usc.edu/contact/contactInfo.cfm?detailID=71046

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