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Young Alumni Dig Into Campaign Finance Enforcement in Newly Published Research

September 12, 2016

  • Flickr image of Oregon Supreme Court courtesy of Bob Nikkel

What policies can campaign finance enforcement agencies implement to achieve greater compliance with the law? That’s the question that recent Lewis & Clark alums Maya Gold BA ’14 and Walker Davis BA ’15, both political science majors, sought to answer in a newly published paper titled, “I Know What You Did Last Cycle: Improving the Detection of State Campaign Finance Violations.” The paper, which first appeared over the summer in the online edition of the Election Law Journal, will appear in the September print edition.

Guided by and in true collaboration with Associate Professor of Political Science Todd Lochner and Assistant Professor of Political Science Ellen Seljan, Gold and Davis began researching Oregon’s campaign finance regulations in 2013, examining the state’s unique campaign finance laws and identifying gaps and opportunities for regulators to better enforce those laws.

The research duo also wrote a shorter summary of their new findings, which was published online by the governmental watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), where Gold and Davis now both work as research associates.

“The research we did was helpful for our work at CREW first and foremost because it introduced us to the complicated mechanisms of campaign finance–the legal framework as well as different states’ permutations,” wrote Gold in a recent exchange. “It also taught me how to approach enforcement questions. Researching crime is a bit tricky because you’re inevitably working with imperfect data; you’re dealing with folks who got caught, not the sum total of folks who committed a crime. The research I did at Lewis & Clark taught me how to deal with that real-world data–working with what’s available even if it’s not perfect–and how to break a bigger, theoretical question into solvable pieces.”

If the students learned and grew from their collaboration and research, so did their faculty advisors.

“It’s great to work collaboratively with students like Maya and Walker,” said Professor Lochner. “They brought fresh insights into our research, challenged Ellen and myself to refine our arguments, and displayed a work ethic that was nothing short of Herculean. The fact that they both were able to take their intellectual interests and skills they developed at Lewis & Clark and translate them into jobs with a prestigious nonprofit like CREW is icing on the cake.”

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