American Government and Politics

Hidden Donors: The Censoring Problem in U.S. Federal Campaign Finance Data

Authors

Abstract

Inferences about individual campaign contributors are limited by how the Federal Election Commission collects and reports data. Only transactions that exceed a cycle-to-date total of $200 are individually disclosed, so that contributions of many donors are unobserved. We contrast visible and "hidden" donors, i.e., small donors who are invisible due to censoring—and routinely ignored in existing research. We use the Sanders presidential campaign in 2016, whose unique campaign structure received money only through an intermediary/conduit committee. These are governed by stricter disclosure statutes, allowing us to study donors who are normally hidden. For Sanders, there were seven hidden donors for every visible donor, and altogether, hidden donors were responsible for 33.8% of Sanders' campaign funds. We show that hidden donors start giving relatively later, with contributions concentrated around early primaries. We suggest that as presidential campaign strategies change towards wooing smaller donors, more research on what motivates them is necessary.

Content

Thumbnail image of hidden_donors_revised.pdf

Supplementary material

Thumbnail image of hidden_donors_si.pdf
Online Appendices
Online Appendices for Hidden Donors: The Censoring Problem in U.S. Federal Campaign Finance Data

Comments

Log in or register with APSA to comment
Comments are not moderated before they are posted, but they can be removed by the site moderators if they are found to be in contravention of our Commenting and Discussion Policy [opens in a new tab] – please read this policy before you post. Comments should be used for scholarly discussion of the content in question. You can find more information about how to use the commenting feature here [opens in a new tab] .