Campaign Finance Reform Without Law

60 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2017 Last revised: 13 Dec 2017

See all articles by Robert Yablon

Robert Yablon

University of Wisconsin Law School

Date Written: July 13, 2017


Conventionally understood, campaign finance reform is a matter of public regulation. Reformers believe that, without adequate government intervention, wealthy individuals and entities are destined to exert outsized influence over elections and governance. Propelled by that belief, they have spent decades advocating regulatory fixes, with relatively little to show for it. Many existing regulations are watered down and easy to circumvent. Efforts to bolster them have repeatedly hit doctrinal and political roadblocks — obstacles that are more formidable today than ever before.

This Article seeks to shift campaign finance discourse toward private ordering. Because scholars and reformers have long focused on public regulation, they have largely overlooked possible private correctives. The Article maps that uncharted terrain, revealing an array of extra-legal mechanisms that at least somewhat constrain money’s electoral clout. This survey suggests that numerous private actors have incentives and capacities to implement additional extra-legal reform. The Article then sketches several potential private interventions, and it assesses the interplay between public regulation and private reform. Private reform is no silver bullet, but to ignore private ordering even as public regulation flounders makes little sense. Especially given the significant constraints on public intervention, it is vital for campaign finance scholars and reformers to look beyond the law.

Keywords: Campaign Finance, Money in Politics, Corporate Political Spending, First Amendment, Citizens United, Election Law, Private Ordering, Social Norms

JEL Classification: K16

Suggested Citation

Yablon, Robert, Campaign Finance Reform Without Law (July 13, 2017). 103 Iowa Law Review 185 (2017), Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1418, Available at SSRN:

Robert Yablon (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics