Following the money: Examining the geographic and demographic distribution of campaign contributions

Anita Manion, University of Missouri-St. Louis


We know little about campaign contributors in local elections even though local governmentsare “closest to the people” and enact policies that directly affect residents. In this paper westudy the geographic and demographic distribution of campaign contributions in St. Louis Cityand St. Louis County elections from 2011-2020. To test our hypotheses about patterns ofinequality in campaign contributions, we aggregate donations to the zip code, and incorporatedemographic variables for income, race, and homeownership. We focus on donations fromindividuals, which were the majority in both dollars and number of contributions. We find thatcampaign donors for the two highest profile local offices in St. Louis government aregeographically and economically unrepresentative of the local population, with substantialeconomic concentration of political donations from high-dollar contributors. This research is anessential step in increasing transparency, thereby improving public understanding of howcontributions might influence economic and political standing in the community.