This study examines the impact of one of the most common features of campaign finance regulations: mandatory disclosure of contributions and contributors’ personal information. While scholars have looked at the effects of other kinds of campaign finance regulations, such as contribution and spending limits and public financing of campaigns, very little work has examined the impact of disclosure, particularly as it relates to citizen participation in politics.

Indeed, both proponents and opponents of increased campaign regulations often simply assume that mandatory disclosure is a benign regulation that shines light on valuable information without any real costs. But, as we find, there are consequences, and they may in fact be quite costly to privacy and First Amendment rights while yielding little, if any, benefit in return.

This study focuses on ballot issue elections, not candidate elections. In 24 states, citizens can vote directly on laws and amendments, and all 24 states require the public disclosure of contributions after minimal contribution thresholds are met. The result is that individual contributors, even those who give very modest amounts to support a cause they believe in, will often find their contribution, name, address and even employer’s name posted on a state website.

The rationale for disclosure in candidate elections is to prevent corruption, but that reasoning disappears with ballot issues where there is no candidate to corrupt. In this context, what purpose does disclosure serve?. . . .

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