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

Alvarez, R. Michael and Katz, Jonathan N. and Kim, Seo-young Silvia (2020) Hidden Donors: The Censoring Problem in U.S. Federal Campaign Finance Data. . (Unpublished)

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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.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Discussion Paper)
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Paper
Alvarez, R. Michael0000-0002-8113-4451
Katz, Jonathan N.0000-0002-5287-3503
Kim, Seo-young Silvia0000-0002-8801-9210
Additional Information:Submission History: Jan 06, 2020 Version 1. An earlier version of this paper was presented as a poster at the Polmeth 2017 and MPSA 2018 conferences; we thank participants for their comments and suggestions.
Subject Keywords:campaign finance; small donors; 2016 election; data censoring; presidential campaigns
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20200109-081212045
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Alvarez, R. Michael, Jonathan N. Katz, and Seo-young Silvia Kim. 2020. “Hidden Donors: The Censoring Problem in U.S. Federal Campaign Finance Data.” APSA Preprints. doi: 10.33774/apsa-2020-sdjkp.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:100572
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:09 Jan 2020 19:44
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 17:54

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