Learning from Campaign Finance Information
USC CLASS Research Papers Series No. CLASS20-10
USC Legal Studies Research Papers Series No. 20-10
52 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2020 Last revised: 7 Jun 2021
Date Written: June 6, 2021
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. It is urgent for the Court to understand the informational benefits of campaign finance disclosure, so it may avoid this collision.
Campaign finance transparency teaches us more than one-dimensional information about the candidate’s left- or right-leaning policy preferences. It also helps us learn about candidate type. Social scientists, including myself, have run several studies examining voter learning from campaign finance information. As I explain in this Article, when voters learn about a candidate’s position with regard to dark money, they learn and vote differently than if they did not have that information. Experimental and observational research also suggests that voters punish noncompliance and reward overcompliance. 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. The innovations I propose include “disclosure disclaimers,” which inform voters about the presence of dark money in a campaign, and campaign finance audits, which inform voters about compliance with campaign finance laws. But more basic loophole-closing can also provide helpful information to voters. 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: Suggested Citation