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In the Shadows of Sunlight: The Effects of Transparency on State Political Campaigns

58 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 18 Jan 2016

Abby K. Wood

USC Gould School of Law

Douglas M. Spencer

University of Connecticut, School of Law

Date Written: January 13, 2016


In recent years, the courts have invalidated a variety of campaign finance laws while simultaneously upholding disclosure requirements. Courts view disclosure as a less-restrictive means to root out corruption while critics claim that disclosure chills speech and deters political participation. Using individual-level contribution data from state elections between 2000 and 2008, we find that the speech-chilling effects of disclosure are negligible. On average, donors to state-level campaigns are equally likely to contribute in subsequent elections in states that increase the public visibility of campaign contributions, relative to donors in states that do not change their disclosure laws or practices over the same time period -- estimates are indistinguishable from zero and confidence intervals are narrow around zero. Moreover, we do not observe heterogeneous effects for small donors or ideological outliers despite an assumption in First Amendment jurisprudence that these donors are disproportionately affected by campaign finance regulations. In short, the argument that disclosure chills speech is not supported by the data.

Keywords: Campaign finance, disclosure, transparency, state politics

JEL Classification: C12, D72, D73, K39

Suggested Citation

Wood, Abby K. and Spencer, Douglas M., In the Shadows of Sunlight: The Effects of Transparency on State Political Campaigns (January 13, 2016). USC CLASS Research Papers Series No. CLASS15-27; USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 15-29. Available at SSRN: or

Abby Wood (Contact Author)

USC Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States


Douglas Spencer

University of Connecticut, School of Law ( email )

65 Elizabeth Street
Hartford, CT 06105
United States

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