Campaign Contributions in Local Elections

By Fleischmann, Arnold; Stein, Lana | Political Research Quarterly, September 1998 | Go to article overview

Campaign Contributions in Local Elections


Fleischmann, Arnold, Stein, Lana, Political Research Quarterly


This study helps fill a gap in both the urban politics and campaign finance literatures by examining donation patterns for municipal elections in Atlanta and St. Louis. These local campaigns raised substantial amounts of money, much of it from suburban and out-of-state contributors. Businesses were the main contributors, but development interests were not the dominant force portrayed in the urban political economy literature. Like state and federal elections, contributors seemed to pursue an "investment" strategy by targeting incumbents and citywide offices. Multivariate analyses revealed no simple relationship, however, between candidate characteristics and the amount of campaign contributions or between the amount of money a candidate raised and outcomes in city council elections.

Research on campaign finance has burgeoned since public records began to be kept in the 1970s. Unfortunately, scholars of campaign finance generally have ignored local governments, while students of urban politics have produced limited research on elections in general and campaign finance in particular. This has occurred even though an estimated $350 million was spent on campaigns for county, municipal, and regional offices in 1992 (Alexander and Corrado 1995: 5-6), and campaign money is often viewed as a "tracer element in politics" that can provide "much valuable information about the patterns of political events and the distribution of political power" (Alexander and Corrado 1995: 1). This exploratory study bridges that gap in the literature by examining campaign contributions in two large cities-St. Louis and Atlanta-that differ in government structure and political culture. The primary goals here are to test the conventional wisdom that development interests are the dominant players in local elections and to assess the impact of money on local election outcomes.

PREVIOUS RESEARCH

Urban scholarship during the past twenty years has focused heavily on the composition and actions of local governing coalitions. Such research has there is an "intimate relationship between local elected officials and real estate relied on an urban political economy paradigm, which generally argues that is a hallmark of U.S. local government, wherein developers are there is an "intimate relationship between local elected officials and real est contributors to municipal campaigns" (Fainstein 1994: 6). Surinterests that is a hallmark of U.S. literature has paid almost no attention to there actual fin developers are the largest contributors to municipal campaigns despite focusing on the 'growth machines" or "regimes" governing American literature has (see Logan et almost no attention to the actual financing of campaigns despite focusing Contributors the "growth Candidates" or "regimes" governing American political economy generally treats elections as a limited check on

Differences Among Contributors and Candidates

Urban political economy generally treats elections as a limited check on the power of business interests (Stone 1993; Judd and Swanstrom 1994: 610). More specifically, research on local "growth machines" hypothesizes that local politicians must rely on contributions from those who "have the most to gain or lose in land-use decisions ... particularly people in property investing, development, and real estate financing" (Logan and Molotch 1987: 62). Regime theory has not adopted a singular focus on development interests, but argues that the composition of governing coalitions can vary and that building and maintaining regimes requires significant effort and a supportive incentive system (Stone 1993: 18; 1989: 186-99, 219-33).

Growth machine theory has been criticized for taking too narrow a view of the range of business interests likely to be active in local politics (Harding 1995: 44-45), while regime theory has been faulted for not explaining continuity and change in the composition of regimes (Stoker 1995: 64-69). …

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