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Research & Publications


Wood, Abby K. and David E. Lewis. Forthcoming. “Agency Performance Challenges and Agency Politicization” Journal of Public Administration, Research, and Theory.

Michalski, Roger M. and Abby Wood. 2017. “Twombly and Iqbal at the State Level” (with Roger M. Michalski) Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 14(2): 424-469.

Wood, Abby K. and Douglas M. Spencer. 2016. “In The Shadows of Sunlight: An Empirical Study of Campaign Finance Transparency” Election Law Journal 15(4): 302-329.

Jensenius, Francesca and Abby Wood. 2016. “Caught in the Act but not Punished: Why the Rule of Law is Key to Effective Deterrence” Penn State Journal of Law & International Affairs. 686(4).

Spencer, Douglas M. and Abby K. Wood. 2014. “Citizens United, States Divided: Evidence of Elasticity in Independent Expenditures” Indiana Law Journal 89(1):315-372.

"Charm and Punishment: How the Philippines' leading man became its most famous prisoner", in Prosecuting Heads of State (Ellen Lutz and Caitlin Reiger, eds., Cambridge University, 2009)

Works Under Review

Campaign Finance Disclosure
Scholars, lawyers, and political activists frequently suggest ways we should tweak (or radically overhaul) our system of campaign finance disclosure. This paper, solicited by the Annual Review of Law and Social Science, takes a look at what we know based on the empirical studies done to date, and what the major strands of theoretical arguments are for whether we need more disclosure, less disclosure, or simply "different" disclosure.

Works In Progress

Trust, Transparency, and Campaign Finance Disclosure
In a series of deregulatory campaign finance cases, the Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional key limits on campaign contributions and expenditures. With each limit that is struck down, the importance of disclosure rises. And with each court pronouncement on disclosure, the importance of disclosure’s “voter competence” benefit becomes clear. The Court says that disclosure increases voter competence by giving voters a “behind the scenes” glimpse at candidate policy positions. This view is not wrong, but it is incomplete. Voters care about more than policy, and campaign finance disclosures give information about an important non-policy attribute: transparency. Disclosure’s opponents, on and off the bench, claim that its potential First Amendment burdens are vast and the benefits of disclosure, including the voter competence benefit, are not met by the current disclosure regime. Using results from a survey and a survey experiment, I establish that (1) voters care about campaign finance disclosure, (2) voters have preferences about candidate transparency, and (3) voters are willing to trade off on policy and vote for a candidate that is more extreme than they are, if that candidate is more transparent than her opponent.

All of this has important implications. First, the Court should stop under-selling campaign finance disclosure. The entire campaign finance regulatory framework leans heavily on disclosure, and disclosure provides information benefits that enhance voter competence. Second, since voters are willing to punish a candidate whose supporting groups take refuge in (legal) donor anonymity, the Court should revisit its assumption that there is no coordination between campaigns and outside groups – the voters do not believe it. Third, since voters reward high quality disclosures, candidates should embrace random audits of their campaign finances.

Campaign Finance Disclosures Help Voters Make Better Choices
The Supreme Court has shifted again, this time against campaign finance disclosure. It jurisprudence around campaign finance disclosure assumes that the disclosures help to inform voters about underlying policies being supported, but the area is under-studied and existing studies are problematic. One key way they are problematic is in seeking population effects, when a sizable minority of the population will not access any political information, including campaign finance information. Here, I present findings from a survey experiment that show that (1) campaign finance information will not be sought by those who are politically disengaged, politically ignorant, or ignorant of the specific policies at issue, and (2) once we control for those people, we can detect an increase in voter competence of around 7 percentage points by pushing campaign finance information to voters.  Given that the existing literature has not yet shown the chilling effect that the Court assumes, these findings suggest that the Court should not allow further dismantling of the campaign finance disclosure regime, and that wider disclosure would serve the important government interest of improving voter competence.

Campaign Finance Transparency Affects Legislators' Election Outcomes and Behavior, with Christian Grose
Transparency has informational benefits to voters and can affect election results. Through transparency, campaign finance disclosure reveals evaluative information about the traits of each candidate, such as whether candidates are corrupt or in violation of the law. We theorize that greater transparency provides useful information to voters during legislative campaigns about the type of candidate running.  Incumbent legislators who are “dirty” with significant campaign finance violations will perform poorly at the polls. To test these claims, we examine a natural experiment in the United States. In the late 1970s, the Federal Election Commission conducted random audits of 10% of all congressional incumbents. This FEC random audit program is perhaps the only randomized experiment a federal agency has ever conducted on federal legislators and by consequence their districts’ electorates. We find that greater transparency regarding campaign finance violations allowed voters to punish those congressional incumbents who violated the law and changes legislator behavior.

Bureaucratic Agency Problems and Legislative Oversight, with Janna Rezaee and Sean Gailmard
This paper empirically analyzes legislative oversight of bureaucracy in the US as a means to mitigate agency problems that units of Congress face with the bureaucracy. We develop a principal-agent model of oversight, and distill three implications about (i) policy conflict between the principal and agent, (ii) the level of activity of the agent for a given level of policy conflict, and (iii) the internal disagreement among multiple principals. Briefly, each of these variables is predicted to positively affect oversight levels in Congress. We test these implications in a newly constructed panel dataset of oversight activity in on-the-record legislative hearings by committees in the US Senate and House of Representatives. The results are generally supportive of the implications from agency theory.

This paper was presented at the 2013 APSA meeting and 2014 Political Economy and Public Law conference.

Exposing Malfeasance: Legal Reform and Government Corruption
Financial incentives for exposing corruption are experiencing a resurgence in popularity in the United States. These laws offer a ``bounty'' to the person who reports corruption or illegal behavior to government investigators or prosecutors. Bounty laws are held up by lawmakers, anti-corruption activists, and some scholars as an effective and low-cost enhancement to government investigatory and enforcement efforts. They have two primary aims: return money to government, and deter future corruption. Using an original dataset on government corruption, this project presents the first empirical analysis of their ability to deter corruption and finds that while bounty laws may be quite effective in recovering government money, we have no evidence that they actually succeed in deterring the underlying corruption. Therefore, to the extent that lawmakers want to use the tool more broadly, they should focus on expanding the law into other forms of corruption that directly take government money, like embezzlement, rather than using them to deter non-monetary corruption, like nepotism or many kinds of bribery.I presented previous versions of this paper at the 2011 Conference on Empirical Legal Studies and the Research Workshop on American Politics at UC Berkeley. The current version is available here.

The Political Origins and Economic Effects of Whistleblower Laws
Across the fifty states, the strength of whistleblower protections for public employees varies considerably. Some of the weakest whistleblower protections will protect whistleblowers from retaliation only if the whistleblower reports to a supervisor first, and only if the act she reports is criminal in nature. Stronger laws protect whistleblowers from retaliation for reporting information about a much broader set of infractions, including waste or endangering health or safety, to a much broader set of audiences, including the legislature or even the news media. There is also variation in the type of employee protected. All states protect at least some members of the bureaucracy from retaliation for reporting at least some acts of malfeasance. But the scope of employee types varies from all public employees to small subsets of bureaucrats in particular agencies. Employees of the legislative and branch are rarely offered as full a panoply of protections as executive branch bureaucrats. All of these types of variation have important implications for government corruption and political outcomes at the state and local level.
In this paper, I ask whether political conditions at the time of legislative enactment of a whistleblower law can predict whether state employees receive strong or weak whistleblower protection. The findings can inform our efforts to improve governance by helping us recognize when the legislature can be relied upon to increase transparency. At times when political conditions in the legislature will not allow for transparency-related reforms, that task falls to judges. State court judges have historically been willing to offer protections to workers when legislatures were unwilling or unable to protect them. Protecting whistleblowers through a "public policy exception" to at-will employment is just such a case. But because we prefer that our laws be written by elected officials rather than unelected judges, leaving the task to judges is a second-best, and highly uncertain, option for reformers.