Disclosing Disclosure: Lessons from a “Failed” Field Experiment

In a 2013 issue of The Forum, John C. Fortier and Michael J. Malbin call for more research into the effects of disclosure requirements for campaign finance. In this paper, authors Dick M. Carpenter II, David M. Primo, Pavel Tendetnik, and Sandy Ho report the results of a field experiment designed to assess whether such rules dissuade potential contributors due to privacy concerns. The paper is unique in that it explains why the field experiment never happened, and what we can learn from its “failure.”

Specifically, it shows that 2012 Congressional candidates were fearful about letting potential contributors know that their donations would be made available on the Internet, along with their address, employer, and other personal information. In trying to learn directly about whether contributors would be spooked by this knowledge, the authors ended up learning indirectly, through the actions of candidates, that privacy concerns may in fact limit participation in the political process, including among small donors.

Read the full paper here.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.