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Campaign Finance Complexity: Before Campaigning Retain an Attorney, Mary Jo McGowan Shepherd

Reviewed by David L. Wiltse

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In the study of candidate emergence, the cost term in the utility calculus has been of central concern. In this book, Mary Jo McGowan Shepherd makes a valuable contribution to the study of candidate emergence and campaign finance by considering how legal complexity increases the cost term in the emergence calculus. Grounded in complexity theory, she employs complexity measures of entire sections of state campaign finance laws to test whether candidates are deterred from running for office by the costs incurred in learning and complying with campaign finance law.

The empirical sections are divided into two main components: a plain language experiment and quantitative tests of the effects of statute complexity on candidate emergence in state legislative elections. There has been a decades-long discussion of the use of plain language in statutes in effort to make the law more “usable” to everyday citizens. This is of particular interest in the emergence context, since a common goal of reformers is to encourage broader participation. As plain language has been shown to improve comprehension in other legal applications, its use could substantially reduce the costs of learning and complying to campaign finance law and thus stimulate candidate emergence.

In her experiment comparing North Carolina’s statutes on campaign contributions in its

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