Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2022

Degree Type

Honors Thesis


International Studies

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


International Studies

First Advisor

Nora Fisher Onar

Second Advisor

Brian Dowd-Uribe


Americans spent $11.4 billion in their last federal election cycle but collectively, the United Kingdom and Canada only spent a little over $550 million in their last general elections. These three states have similarities in democratic governance, economic legacy, and common law legal system grouping but how did they become so separated in campaign finance regulations? Prior research in the field of international comparative campaign finance law is limited and primarily focuses on using political theories to describe the movement of laws toward deregulation or regulation. This research seeks to find what influences the creation, preservation, and deregulation of campaign finance laws in these affluent Western states. Focusing on legal tradition, this research analyses the historical, institutional, and cultural components of law and society in each respective state. In tandem, this research uses textual analysis to look at every legally binding federal campaign finance law and judicial decision for each state is studied to see how legal tradition has affected trends of regulation or deregulation throughout the decades. Through this framework, this study finds that legal tradition has influenced three unique outcomes for the level of regulation in each state’s election finance regime. The United States’ legal tradition has invested considerable power in the judiciary, which has severely limited American legislators' ability to regulate elections. This judicial intervention and the legal tradition surrounding its power has resulted in severe deregulation of election finance laws. In the United Kingdom, a legal tradition of parliamentary sovereignty, an unwritten constitution, and a legal history of comity between legislators and the judiciary has resulted in a series of regulatory statutes that have not been weakened by other constitutional actors. Lastly, Canada’s legal tradition tells a story of political adversarial gain with both written and unwritten constitutions, parliamentary sovereignty, and weakened judiciary that has culminated in a back and forth of regulated and deregulated laws based on the leading majority political party.

These states all operate in the common law system but if we look at them broadly in just that category of organization, we are unable to note the differences that have influenced diverging trends in regulating campaign finance regimes. This research is the first in the field of comparative campaign finance legal studies to emphasize the importance of analyzing the cultural, historical, and institutional factors of each respective state. Without this lens, we are unable to understand law as a social phenomenon and how these campaign finance laws are a part of a bigger picture that has been in the making for decades. Without this all-encompassing view of legal tradition, there is no way to determine if a law will stand institutional interventions or the test of time.