Courts, campaigns, and corruption : an empirical evaluation of the “appearance of corruption” rationale for campaign finance regulation

Rao, Nitya Tangada
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

In Buckley v. Valeo, arguably their most important campaign finance decision, the United States Supreme Court argued that the appearance of political corruption alone might be sufficient to undermine the health of a representative democracy. There has been little empirical evidence to support this assertion, so to test this hypothesis, I fielded a novel survey containing different measures of factors influencing perceptions of corruption, perceptions about campaign contributions, support for campaign finance reform initiatives, perceptions of the frequency and nature of corruption, and perceptions of democratic health to roughly 1000 participants on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. I constructed a causal diagram representing the "appearance of corruption" rationale in Buckley v. Valeo and used structural equation modeling, observed-variable path modeling to evaluate that specific causal hypothesis with various survey items. I found that the data did not support the hypotheses derived from the appearance of corruption rationale. To further test the Supreme Court’s claim that perceptions of corruption affect political behavior, I regressed various measures of perceptions of the frequency of corruption on self-reported political participation and found no significant correlation, again suggesting that the appearance of corruption rationale has meager empirical support.