In the News: Roll Call: Campaign Finance Disclosure Has Costs

Campaign Finance Disclosure Has Costs

By David M. Primo (CCP Academic Advisor), Pavel Tendetnik, Dick M. Carpenter II, and Sandy Ho

Record amounts of money poured into campaign coffers in the 2012 election season. Unbeknownst to many donors, contributions of more than $200 to a federal candidate produced more than just another campaign ad. They also resulted in the disclosure of the donor’s name, address, contribution amount, occupation and employer’s name on the Internet for anyone to see.

For campaign finance overhaul advocates, policies that require such disclosure are brimming with benefits at virtually no cost. But in recent years, critics have begun to question just how costless disclosure actually is, arguing that it chills speech and association once potential donors fully understand the disclosure process.

A lively debate has ensued, almost entirely devoid of real-world evidence, so we saw the current election season as an ideal laboratory for studying how disclosure requirements affect the behavior of potential donors to congressional campaigns. We invited candidates in every race to post the following disclaimer on the contributions page of their campaign website for a period of two weeks in September:

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