I have written an article for the recent edition of the Washburn Law Journal, entitled “‘“The Centre Cannot Hold’”: Campaign Finance Disclosure Beyond 2016.” I lay out the current legal landscape surrounding campaign finance disclosure, with criticism of the campaign finance “reform” community for ignoring disclosure’s downsides. It opens with a narrative of my experience working as a campaign’s treasurer in Wyoming in 2014:
This experience alone—complying with arguably one of the simplest campaign finance regimes—reveals the sharp contrast between the way things are and the way proponents of campaign finance disclosure expect (or perhaps pretend) them to be. The loftiest pronouncements of pundits, professors, and policymakers about campaign finance “reform”—particularly ones about making politics accessible to more citizens—fail to account, often even acknowledge, that campaign finance disclosure is a costly and difficult process for average Americans who want to get involved in politics. Moreover, to remedy this requires the assistance of professionals, often attorneys, accountants, or other compliance services, none of whom come cheap. Thoughtful reformers do not succumb to silly platitudes about “getting big money out of politics and restoring democracy,” but there is at least a strange unaddressed irony that disclosure makes politicking more costly and exclusive.
In serendipitous timing, one of the papers that inspired the article, Developing Empirical Evidence for Campaign Finance Cases, has lead the Brennan Center for Justice to launch an “Empirical Evidence Database” that aims to assist in building factual records so that courts may rule against challenges to campaign finance laws. In the database, disclosure’s downsides remain unaddressed. (Here’s hoping Brennan Center’s empirical effort is at least a little better than the last one.)