In the Shadows of Sunlight: The Effects of Transparency on State Political Campaigns
Election Law Journal, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 302-329 (2016)
58 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 11 Dec 2019
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: Suggested Citation