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Shining a Light on State Campaign Finance

Shining a Light on State Campaign Finance: An Evaluation of the Impact of the National Institute on Money in State Politics

Geoffrey McGovern
Michael D. Greenberg
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: RAND Corporation
Pages: 58
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  • Book Info
    Shining a Light on State Campaign Finance
    Book Description:

    The National Institute on Money in State Politics collects, processes, and makes public information on campaign contributions made to state-level candidates for public office. Drawing on experiences of a variety of users, as well as a review of the publications that have used the Institute’s data and research reports, this report provides an evaluation of the Institute’s impact on the public discourse over campaign finance at the state level.

    eISBN: 978-0-8330-8944-1
    Subjects: Business, Law, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Preface
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  4. Figures and Table
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Summary
    (pp. ix-xii)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. 1. The Problem is in the Data: Bringing State Campaign Finance Out of the Shadows
    (pp. 1-4)

    Political contributions are a basic part of political life in the United States. The funding of political action committees (PACs); Super-PACs, 501(c)(4) “social welfare” groups; national, state, and local party committees; and lobbyists supplements individual donations made to campaigns, thereby supporting races for legislative and judicial positions across the country.

    Despite the manifest trend toward ever-costlier elections, the role that money actually plays in politics is a hotly debated subject. Are campaign contributions best understood as an expression of support for a candidate’s political views and as a proxy for expected voting behavior? Or do contributions instead involve covert attempts...

  8. 2. Summarizing the History, Function, and Value Proposition of the National Institute on Money in State Politics
    (pp. 5-14)

    NIMSP began in 1991 as an effort called the Money in Western Politics Project, under the auspices of the Western States Center, financed by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation’s Democracy Program (the “MacArthur Project”). At that time, the MacArthur Project granted five regional teams the resources to begin digitizing state campaign finance data.¹⁰ Before the MacArthur Project, no concerted effort to compile state-level data had been successful. Any individual or researcher who was interested in studying the flow of political money at the state level would have had to contact each states’ election official, to obtain copies of the...

  9. 3. An Ecological View of Impact Reveals the Role of the Institute in Supporting Informed Analysis of Money in State Politics
    (pp. 15-30)

    The Institute’s contract with RAND provided an opportunity to consider how its data resource is being used to influence public policy. The question of “impact” for an organization like the Institute poses something of a quandary because the Institute’s mission does not primarily seek to influence policy in any particular direction, other than toward openness. Instead, the Institute primarily has an informational role. Again quoting from the Institute’s website: “We encourage transparency and promote independent investigation of state-level campaign contributions by journalists, academic researchers, public-interest groups, government agencies, policymakers, students and the public at large.” While a few Institute initiatives...

  10. 4. Recommendations and Conclusions
    (pp. 31-38)

    The NIMSP hired the RAND Corporation to help the Institute understand how it is having an impact in the public discussion over the role of money in politics. We were asked to help the Institute understand and operationalize “impact” and to look into the users of Institute data and research reports to glean insights into how the Institute can have greater impact in the future. We recognize that these questions are important not only to the Institute but also to the foundation community of supporters who, in stewarding scarce resources, seek to maximize their giving along dimensions that loosely track...

  11. References
    (pp. 39-44)