The Iceberg Theory of Campaign Finance Reform

Nathan Katz, University of Pittsburgh

One of the many approaches to theorizing about campaign finance reform is to frame it as analogous to hydraulics. The hydraulic theory argues that campaign finance reform does not limit money in politics but redirects it to other sources (particularly away from candidates), making regulations futile, if not counterproductive. Among this approach’s problems is its failure to consider the institutional structures of power and social relationships among political actors, which drives how much money is involved and is spent. I contend that, instead, campaign finance reform is akin to creating icebergs. Environmental conditions influence the size, shape, and compactness of icebergs. Similarly, the ideological interests behind campaign finance reform and social relationships among political actors influence the size, shape, and power structures of coordination in electoral campaigns. In this paper, I demonstrate how campaign finance reforms shape power structures through comparative network analyses of coordination among candidates, parties, and interest groups producing advertisements in presidential elections from 2000-2016. In doing so, I demonstrate that understanding campaign finance must account for the ideological interests and goals of regulations, the changes in how money is spent, and the social relationships of actors, both personal and built through expenditures.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 28. Money, Politics, and the State