RWAP: Ian Turner (Yale University)

Wednesday, February 2, 2022
12:00pm to 1:30pm
119 Moses Hall
Berkeley CA 94720

Title: Dark Money and Voter Learning


We provide a model of dark money in elections. A donor with extreme preferences relative to the voter is privately informed about the policy preferences and valence of a candidate for office. Advertisements reveal hard information about valence and the voter can learn this information either through donor-funded advertisements or from neutral sources. Under mandatory transparency the voter is always informed of the source of a message. When the message is known to come from the donor the voter reflects on the donor's preferences and concludes that the candidate is more likely to be extreme since the donor contributed money to that candidate. In contrast, dark money allows the donor to transmit messages to the voter without revealing the source, leaving the voter uncertain about whether the signal came from the donor or from the neutral source. Thus, the reason for using dark money is to attempt to persuade the voter to support a candidate without causing the voter to believe that the candidate is likely to have extreme preferences. However, this effect can also be detrimental to the donor since the voter is also uncertain about the source of neutral signals and is therefore less likely to be persuaded by them.