Reading the Fine Print: An Experimental Test of Campaign Finance Reform

    There is an expectation among practitioners that advertising disclosures work to inform voters about who is speaking and, thus, whether they should trust the information in the advertisement. However, existing research suggests that current disclosure regulations may not perform as reformers expect. These studies indicate that voters may be deceived by strategically chosen interest group names that falsely project knowledge and/or trustworthiness.


    In this study, I measure how actual campaign names and interest groups are perceived by individuals in terms of their knowledge and trustworthiness. I then experimentally vary the campaign finance disclosure within a ballot initiative advertisement to see how these disclosures affect respondents’ issue preferences. Without exception, I find that the most common form of campaign finance disclosure allows unknown political actors to be as persuasive as well-known credible interest groups. However, when more comprehensive disclosure is used, respondents condition their support on the speaker’s credibility.

Published in American Politics Research (2019)

Winner, Dean's Prize for Best Oral Presentation in Social Sciences, UC Davis Interdisciplinary Graduate and Professional Symposium ($1,000)

Honorable Mention, Emerging Scholars Award for Excellence in Research and Public Policy, University of California Center Sacramento

© Matt Lesenyie 2020