PUBPOL 475.004

PUBPOL 475.004: Topics: Campaign Finance Reform

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Winter 2020
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Credit Hours

Federal election spending from all sources has doubled over the last twenty years and the 2018 election continued the trend.  Campaign spending in the midterms exceeded $5 billion for the first time, much of it coming from Super PACs and "dark money" organizations unfettered by federal regulation.  Spending in many state elections has followed this trend.  But is that a bad thing?  We will begin the course by reviewing the campaign finance system at the federal level.  We then examine critically the basic claims used to justify campaign finance regulations.  What is the social scientific evidence that spending, by candidates or independent groups, influences election outcomes?  What is the evidence that contributions influence elected officials post-election?  What is the case against regulation?  Do restrictions on campaign contributions and spending violate the First Amendment protection of free speech?   In the second half of the course, we will consider the constitutional and practical merits of various campaign finance proposals at the local, state, and federal level.  Students will work in teams to evaluate campaign finance policy in a particular state or locality and write policy briefs to public officials on how to improve their campaign finance system, then defend their recommendations in a public forum.