Political Participation and Civic Courage: The Negative Effect of Transparency on Making Small Campaign Contributions
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This study assesses whether public disclosure of campaign contributions affects citizens’ willingness to give money to candidates. In the American states, campaign finance laws require disclosure of private information for contributors at relatively low thresholds ranging from $1 to $300. The Internet has made it relatively easy to publicize such information in a way that changes the social context for political participation. Drawing on social influence theory, the analysis suggests that citizens are sensitive to divulging private information, especially those who are surrounded by people with different political views. Using experimental data from the 2011 Cooperative Congressional Election Studies, it demonstrates how individuals refrain from making small campaign contributions or reduce their donations to avoid disclosing their identities. The conclusion discusses the implications of transparency laws for political participation, especially for small donors.
KeywordsPolitical participation Campaign contributions Political transparency Social influence theory Political finance law Internet and politics
I wish to thank Brian Schaffner for introducing me to the Cooperative Congressional Election Studies and providing invaluable advice on the project. Thanks also to members of the Research Working Group at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, including Maryann Barakso, Bruce Desmarais, Rahsaan Maxwell, Tatishe Nteta and Jesse Rhodes. I appreciate the suggestions of Bruce Cain and Vin Moscardelli, as well as Caroline Tolbert, the discussant at the 2012 meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, participants at the 2011 Cooperative Congressional Election Studies Sundance Conference, and three anonymous reviewers at Political Behavior. Funding for the purchase of data was generously provided by the Political Science Department and College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
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