A Preliminary Analysis of Campaign Contributions in Florida's Legislative and Judicial Elections

Article excerpt

There is a large body of research that has been conducted on the economics of political campaigns. The relevant questions often asked include how important are campaign contributions to determining election outcomes; how significant is incumbency in eliciting contributions or determining outcomes; how influential contributors are in determining the actions and votes of an elected candidate; and what factors determine whether, how much, and to which candidate a contributor donates money. Most of this research is conducted in the field of political science, though public choice theorists have researched similar topics with the tools of economics.

Most of the research on campaign contributions concerns the elections of legislators; however, candidates also run for judicial office, and seek campaign contributions in the process. This paper takes a first step in examining campaign contributions to both types of candidates. The Division of Elections at the Florida Department of State maintains an online database of both contributions to and expenditures of political campaigns for all federal and state elections from 1996 onwards. The contributions data lists detailed information on each instance a monetary or in-kind contribution was made to a candidate's campaign. Aside from legislative races, the database also includes information from judicial races, and thus is a good source of data with which to test hypotheses concerning the determinants of contributions to legislative versus judicial campaigns. Further, the database includes information on all candidates, i.e. both winning and losing candidates, and we can thus analyze possible characteristics of contributors to winning versus losing campaigns and also avoid any selection bias by examining only victorious candidates.

The paper is organized as follows: section two presents a brief literature review of articles on campaign contributions and public choice aspects of the judiciary from both the economics and law literature. section three outlines a theoretical model describing how contributions to political candidates are determined. Section four describes the data used in the estimated models, summarized in section five. Concluding remarks are presented in section six.

Literature review

Several articles by Eric Helland and Alexander Tabarrok have addressed issues relating to the public choice aspects of the judiciary. In "The Effect of Electoral Institutions on Tort Awards,"1 they examine how in-state and out-of-state defendants fare in states where judges are elected on partisan or nonpartisan ballots. Voters will prefer, if possible, that taxes be shifted out of state; thus, out-of-state defendants are predicted to be charged larger penalties than in-state defendants. Further, they argue that judges who regularly grant larger awards will be elected over those who grant lower awards, and judges elected on partisan ballots are expected to grant larger awards than judges who are appointed or elected on nonpartisan ballots. Their results show that tax shifting does occur: out-of-state defendants pay an average of $376,400 and $ 176,583 more than in-state defendants in partisan and nonpartisan states, respectively. This support of the notion that elected judges may be responding to political incentives provides one of the motivations of this paper attempting to uncover who may be trying to influence judicial decision-making through campaign contributions.2

Posnet (1993) seeks to describe judicial behavior in economic, utility-maximizing terms. Though they presumably exist in an environment specifically constructed to be free from economic influence, judges have utility functions and face constraints in much the same way as other economic actors. Posner likens judges to managers of nonprofit firms, to voters, and to viewers of plays, all groups who superficially appear to operate without economic motives but whose behavior can be described in a utility-maximizing sense. …