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Course Descriptions

Course Descriptions

Money in Politics (Spring 2019)

  • Course Number: LAW-622
  • Class Number: 03261
  • Instructor: Abby K. Wood

Course Description

Forty years ago, five men broke into the DNC headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, and American political campaigns were forever changed.  Congress created the Federal Election Commission, and centralized regulation of campaign financing began.  Since the Watergate scandal, we have experienced two cycles of regulating and deregulating campaign finance.  In the interim, technology and political messaging have changed a lot, most recently with the turn to advertising on social media.  The regulations have not kept pace.

In this seminar, we will study the statutes and cases governing campaign finance in America and the latest research into their effects.  We will discuss how to design a campaign finance system that maximizes social welfare and ask whether the current system needs some tweaks or wholesale replacement.  We will examine national, state, and local experiments with public financing and with placing limits on contributions and expenditures. We will ask why congress is willing to regulate itself, whether corporations and unions prefer more or less regulation of campaign finance, and why the court keeps undoing so many substantive limits on campaign finance as overly burdensome on our First Amendment rights.  And yes, we will talk about Citizens United, Russian Facebook ads, and “fake news”.

In the second half of the semester, we will take a deep dive into the one area of campaign finance regulation that is also under attack:  disclosure. Regulations surrounding campaign finance disclosure define how much information the public can see about who funds our candidates and ballot initiatives and who spends on their behalf.  Gaps in the disclosure regime provide for so-called “dark money” and a largely unregulated environment for online political advertising.  The political parties, social media platforms, Congress, FEC, and to a lesser extent, the IRS and FCC, are all complicit in allowing a great deal of campaign finance information to stay hidden from the public.  Is it a problem of both over- and under-breadth?  How should we change disclosure regulations to maximize social welfare? Should the court continue to uphold disclosure, and if so, why?

Students are expected to write a substantive paper on an interesting issue. I provide a list of suggested topics, but I really enjoy helping students write about issues that interest them and provide intensive support through the semester to help them write the best paper that they can. I’m proud to say that one student note that started in my class won an award recently, and I’d love for that to happen again.


Course Details

  • Unit Value: 2
  • Grading Options: Numerical Only
  • Schedule: T 10:00 am - 11:50 am
  • Room Number: Room 107: Ackerman Courtroom
  • Exam: Paper
  • Writing Requirement: Yes with submission of the Upper Division Writing Requirement Form.
  • Skills/Experiential Unit Requirement: No