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David Primo - University of Rochester. Rochester, NY, US

David Primo David Primo

Ani and Mark Gabrellian Professor, Professor of Political Science and Business Administration | University of Rochester


Primo is an expert in American politics, campaign finance, corporate political strategy, corporate social responsibility & fiscal policy.


Areas of Expertise (11)

Money in Politics

Government shutdown

Corporate Political Strategy

Airline Safety and Security

Legislative Rules

Judicial Appointments

Government Spending and Budgets

Campaign Finance

Political Gridlock

Federal Tax Policy

Election Law



David Primo Publication David Primo Publication David Primo Publication David Primo Publication



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David M. Primo is the Ani and Mark Gabrellian Professor and a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester.

He is the author of three books, including the award-winning Rules and Restraint: Government Spending and the Design of Institutions, and numerous journal articles. His most recent book is Campaign Finance and American Democracy: What the Public Really Thinks and Why It Matters, co-authored with Jeff Milyo. His research has been supported by several organizations, including the National Science Foundation.

Primo has published op-eds in national news outlets including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, and Los Angeles Times, and he’s been interviewed on radio and television stations including National Public Radio, Bloomberg, and Sirius XM. He has testified before Congress multiple times on the subject of constitutional budget rules and budget process reform, and his campaign finance research was cited in 2011 by Chief Justice John Roberts in a US Supreme Court decision regarding the public funding of elections.

In 2014, Primo created the Politics and Markets Project, which fosters education, research, and debate about the appropriate relationship between business and government in the 21st century. The panel events Primo moderates as part of PMP programming bring together experts from across the political spectrum to debate controversial issues in a civil fashion.

Primo teaches courses in American politics, corporate political strategy, and innovation and global business. He joined the Rochester faculty in 2002 after receiving his PhD in Political Science from Stanford University, where he also received an MA in Economics. He is also a senior affiliated scholar with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Education (4)

Stanford University: Ph.D., Political Science 2002

Stanford University: M.A., Economics 2001

Brown University: M.A., Political Science 1998

Brown University: B.A., Economics and Honors Political Science 1998

Affiliations (3)

  • The Mercatus Center at George Mason University : Mercatus Affiliated Scholar
  • American Politics Research : Editorial Board
  • Center for Competitive Politics : Board of Academic Advisors

Selected Media Appearances (30)

Campaign donations, spending in NY governor's race highest in 20 years

Newsday  print


"Spending in the 2022 gubernatorial race reflected the fact that Republicans had their first real chance at the governorship in two decades," said David Primo, a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester who has written extensively on campaign financing. "This spending reflected a robust, competitive election with two candidates offering competing visions for the state and vying for the votes of New Yorkers. Isn’t this what we should want in a democracy?"

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GOP wins house majority, sends a message to 'woke' businesses: get out of politics

USA Today  print


Increasingly corporations will have to balance activist investors and employees prodding them to take progressive positions and conservatives punishing them for it, said David Primo, a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester. “Corporations are really caught in the middle of the culture wars,” Primo said.

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Senate to vote on bill targeting super PACs, 'dark money' in politics

CBS Austin  tv


Primo said his research and other studies have found limited impact on trust in government and policy outcomes.

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Disney, Florida and how corporations navigate competing political interests

Wisconsin Public Radio  radio


The state of Florida revoked Disney's special tax status after the corporation opposed a controversial LGBT law in the state. We explore how corporations navigate competing political interests.

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Lt. governor indictment puts spotlight on state campaign finance reform: New York is set to launch a public financing system for political campaigns in the next election cycle

Albany Times Union  print


There are plenty of other "creative" ways Albany politicians have been corrupt that have nothing to do with campaign contributions, said David Primo.

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Biden Hits Road for First Fundraisers as President

Voice of America  radio


"Basically, people were mistrustful of the government before Citizens United, and they were mistrustful of the government after," said David Primo.

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The latest on Democrats' plan to tax billionaires to pay for spending bill

Wisconsin Public Radio  radio


Democrats are hoping to impose a new tax on the ultra-rich as part of a social policy and climate package they want to pass this week. We look at how the proposal would work, why conservatives are opposed to it, and how likely it is to pass.

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New Georgia campaign finance law is ‘carving a loophole’

US News & World Report  print


What’s interesting here is that they’ve created this, essentially, law that almost by design is going to benefit incumbents,” says David Primo, the Ani and Mark Gabrellian Professor and a professor of political science and business administration, and author of a book about campaign finance. “And so usually you don’t see something that’s so transparently anti-challenger. Usually, it’s at least couched in some sort of rhetoric about campaign finance. That’s what makes this a little bit unusual.”

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Investigation: How campaign cash flowed to Cranley from Liberty and Elm project team

Cincinnati Enquirer and MSN  online


"It's so easy to say, 'Let's ban campaign contributions,' but the problem is much deeper," said David Primo at the University of Rochester.

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Op-ed: Reformers say HR1 will fortify our democracy. Science shows it won't

Roll Call  online


HR1, the For the People Act of 2021, is riddled with claims that do not hold up when subjected to scientific scrutiny.

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How the National Debt Affects Your Investments

US News & World Report  print


It is a long-run problem and the sooner we start dealing with it, the better off we'll be as a country, says David Primo at University of Rochester.

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CEOs spurn Trump and his allies: How big a blow?

Christian Science Monitor  online


This is primarily a symbolic move as a way to send a signal to the Republican Party that the violence ... is simply not acceptable, says David Primo.

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Credit union-backed lawmakers among those contesting election

American Banker  online


There are more demands now for corporations to behave in a socially responsible way, said David Primo. Social media has amplified that.

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‘Zoom-bombing’ prevention and socially distanced porch parties: How the pandemic has changed political fundraising in Maryland

Baltimore Sun  print


David Primo at the University of Rochester thinks that post-pandemic, campaigns will use virtual events to complement in-person events.

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Op-ed: Personal Data About Small-Donor Democrats Is All Over the Internet

New York Times  print


One of the largest single disclosures of small-donor information in American history took place on July 31. On that day, the names, addresses, occupations and employers of at least 2.3 million people who contributed money to 2020 Democratic presidential candidates were listed on the internet for all to see. The culprits were not Russian hackers or disgruntled tech workers, but the Democratic presidential candidates and the federal government.

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Why 2020 candidates seek small-dollar campaign contributions

PolitiFact  online


U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders likes to talk up grassroots support of his presidential campaign, and one of his favorite metrics is individual donations. "I feel very good with the fact that we have now received some 2 million individual contributions — which I think is an all-time world's record — up to this point, averaging all of $19 apiece," Sanders said in a recent interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. Could we fact-check that? Not under today's campaign finance rules. "Under federal campaign finance laws, contributions from a single individual to a single candidate do not have to be reported until they exceed $200, so, unless Sanders chooses to voluntarily disclose the information for small contributions in his FEC filings, there is no way to verify the information," said David Primo, a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester in New York. "It would be interesting to see how Sanders' numbers compare with other candidates" in the 2020 race, said Primo.

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Boeing has a New Problem

Marketplace Business News (American Public Media)  radio


There's a new problem with Boeing's troubled 737 Max plane, the aircraft that was involved in those two fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Boeing says the Federal Aviation Administration has asked it to “address” the problem through the software changes it's already making to the 737 Max. The problem appears to be related to how pilots can control the jet if the system that automatically pushes its nose down malfunctions. “You know, planes fly themselves to a large degree, but it's the judgement of the pilot in those one-in-a-million shots that is going to make the difference between that plane landing and that plane not landing,” said David Primo, who teaches political science and business administration at the University of Rochester.

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When corporations take a stance on divisive issues

WCNY Capitol Pressroom  online


Corporations such as Nike and Chick-fil-A have made headlines by taking positions on divisive issues. But is it wise for corporations to take political stands? How does doing so affect their image, customer loyalty, and ultimately their bottom line? David Primo, the Ani and Mark Gabrellian Professor and an associate professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester, appeared recently on Capitol Pressroom, a WCNY radio production, to discuss mixing advocacy and business.

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One Cut Not Seen in Trump Budget: the Debt

US News and World Report  


The Trump budget seeks to cut spending by slicing away at non-military, domestic programs. Aside from whatever impact those cuts would have on various groups of citizens, experts say, such budget cuts would do little to get at the behemoth-sized debt and deficit. It's what David Primo, a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester, calls the "Starbucks latte" fallacy – that if an individual is trying to get a personal budget under control, the thing to do is to eliminate the daily pricey coffee drink. In fact the federal budget – and most people's personal budgets – require far more structural and dramatic changes to become balanced and healthy, he says. "It doesn't work – not in personal finance and not in government finance," Primo says. "I think it would be very difficult to find a political scientist or economist who thinks we can deal with the nation's fiscal issues by making cuts in domestic spending."

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A Concise History of Presidential Commentary on the Stock Market

Bloomberg  online


Trump often talks about the market and uses it as a barometer of his success. Since his election, he's tweeted about stocks more than 35 times. “President Trump, unlike previous presidents, has staked much of his economic success on the stock market. It's not crazy in that sense to encourage people to buy stocks,” said David Primo, associate professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester. “It's atypical for presidents generally, but given the way the president has developed his economic platform, it's not that unusual.”

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TSA agent call-outs yet to hit Logan Airport

Boston Herald  print


Airports across the country are seeing TSA security screeners calling out from work as the country enters the third week of a partial government shutdown. TSA employees are expected to work without pay during the partial shutdown because their jobs are considered essential. David M. Primo, an expert in airport safety and security and a professor at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York, said flight security is not a risk but there could be inconveniences should call outs from TSA agents continue. “If the walkout grows significantly, there may be increased wait times at checkpoints, or worst-case scenario, some checkpoints might close, leading to delays and flight cancellations. But those are inconveniences, not threats to the security of the nation's skies,” he said.

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Op-ed: Markets Weren’t Spooked by a President Trump

Wall Street Journal  print


What investors feared was an indecisive election. Once the winner became clear, confidence returned.

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Op-ed: Wobbly Policies Make For a Shaky Economy

Wall Street Journal  print


Washington’s uncertain signals on everything from taxes to health care force businesses to be cautious.

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Op-ed: The Stock Market Doesn’t Care About Elections

The New York Times  print


Co-authored by Trung A. Dang, the op-ed looks at how much investors care about U.S. elections.

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Dodd-Frank? More Like Dud-Frank for Lots of Folks

CNBC  online


Interviewed by Mark Koba about the impact of the Dodd Frank financial reform bill.

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Political scientist Primo says Americans should worry about government control of social media

University of Rochester Newscenter  online


Rochester political scientist David Primo says Americans should be worried when politicians discuss the need to control the media. The debate follows in the wake of targeted Russian misinformation campaigns on social media during the last general election. Congress is currently considering legislation that would regulate political advertising on social media...

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Op-ed: It's Not the Economy Stupid -- It's Entitlement Spending

US News & World Report  online


Opinion piece about the political impact of the economy during election periods.

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Creating a ‘citizen economist’

University of Rochester Newscenter  online


Clifford Smith, the Louise and Henry Epstein Professor of Business at the Simon Business School, and David Primo, the Ani and Mark Gabrellian Professor and associate professor of political science and business administration offer their thoughts on how a fundamental understanding of economics helps us make better decisions and influences how we think about our complex and connected world...

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Op-ed: New Jersey Least Corrupt? Ha, Ha

Wall Street Journal  print


The flawed methodology behind the recent 'State Integrity Investigation.'

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Op-Ed: Obama's Budget Blind Spot

Los Angeles Times  print


The stimulus act taught us that the country would be better served if the president did less tinkering in his budget and more leading.

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Selected Articles (6)

Risky Business: Do Disclosure and Shareholder Approval of Corporate Political Contributions Affect Firm Performance?

Business and Politics

Saumya Prabhat and David M. Primo

2018 The role of corporations in the US political process has received increased scrutiny in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, leading to calls for greater regulation. In this paper, we analyze whether policies mandating greater disclosure and shareholder approval of political contributions reduce risk and increase firm value, as proponents of such rules claim. Specifically, we examine the Neill Committee Report (NCR), which led to the passage of the United Kingdom’s Political Parties, Elections, and Referendums Act 2000 mandating new disclosure and shareholder approval rules. We find that politically active firms did not benefit from the NCR in the days after its release and suffered a decline in value in the months and years that followed. Politically active firms also suffered an increase in risk, as proxied by stock return volatility, following the release of the NCR. We theorize that these findings are due to the reduced flexibility these rules impose on corporate strategy as well as the potential for these rules to facilitate political activism against corporations.

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Policy dynamics and electoral uncertainty in the appointments process

Journal of Theoretical Politics

Jinhee Jo, David M Primo, Yoji Sekiya,

2016 By incorporating electoral uncertainty and policy dynamics into three two-period models of the appointments process, we show that gridlock may not always occur under divided government, contrary to the findings of static one-shot appointments models. In these cases, contrary to the ally principle familiar to students of bureaucratic politics, the president or the confirmer is willing to move the court away from his or her ideal point as a way to insulate against worse outcomes in period two. By demonstrating how a simple set of changes to a workhorse model can change equilibrium outcomes significantly, this paper provides a foundation for reconsidering the static approach to studying political appointments.

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Using Item Response Theory to Improve Measurement in Strategic Management Research: an Application to Corporate Social Responsibility

Strategic Management Journal

Robert J. Carroll, David M. Primo, Brian K. Richter

2016 This article uses item response theory (IRT) to advance strategic management research, focusing on an application to corporate social responsibility (CSR). IRT explicitly models firms’ and individuals’ observable actions in order to measure unobserved, latent characteristics. IRT models have helped researchers improve measures in numerous disciplines. To demonstrate their potential in strategic management, we show how the method improves on a key measure of corporate social responsibility and corporate social performance (CSP), the KLD Index, by creating what we term D-SOCIAL-KLD scores, and associated estimates of their accuracy, from the underlying data. We show, for instance, that firms such as Apple may not be as “good” as previously thought, while firms such as Walmart may perform better than typically believed. We also show that the D-SOCIAL-KLD measure outperforms the KLD Index and factor analysis in predicting new CSR-related activity.

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State Constitutions and Fiscal Policy


David Primo

This paper proposes a framework for studying the relationship between fiscal policy and state constitutions in terms of direct and indirect fiscal restraints and pressures.

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Disclosing Disclosure: Lessons from a “Failed” Field Experiment

The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics

David Primo, Dick M. Carpenter II, Pavel Tendetnik, and Sandy Ho

In a recent issue of The Forum, Fortier and Malbin call for more research into the effects of disclosure requirements for campaign finance. In this paper, we report the results of a field experiment designed to assess whether such rules dissuade potential contributors due to privacy concerns.

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Information at the Margin: Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws, Ballot Issues, and Voter Knowledge

Ethical Law Journal

David Primo

This paper proposes a framework for studying the relationship between fiscal policy and state constitutions in terms of direct and indirect fiscal restraints and pressures. Fiscal restraints such as balanced budget rules limit the scope of government, while fiscal pressures such as education rights expand or place demands on government.

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