The Empirics of Campaign Finance – Commentary by Daniel R. Ortiz

From Volume 78, Number 4 (May 2005)

Thomas Stratmann’s The Effectiveness of Money in Ballot Measure Campaigns and Richard Hasen’s Rethinking the Unconstitutionality of Contribution and Expenditure Limits in Ballot Measure Campaigns form a nice pair. Both question existing understandings of the empirics of campaign finance but from different perspectives. Stratmann investigates the central empirical issue in the area: the connection between campaign spending and campaign success. He questions the body of studies that find surprisingly little impact of the former on the latter, points out the conflict between this result and contemporary political practice, and identifies a methodological flaw common to all the studies. At the end he proposes a different way of modeling such spending – one that takes spending strategy into account – and finds that the influence of campaign spending on outcomes is more robust than the existing body of empirical work indicates.

Hasen’s contribution focuses not on the validity of existing empirical studies, but rather on the Supreme Court’s use of empirical evidence in its campaign finance cases. After considering the effect on ballot measures of recent Supreme Court cases concerning campaign finance regulation of candidate elections, Hasen turns to a more general task: analyzing “the role that evidence plays in the Court’s campaign finance jurisprudence.” He criticizes the Supreme Court’s current use of evidence as unprincipled and strongly argues that the Court should employ empirical evidence in a particular way – to determine whether a law’s means are appropriate.