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Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law




Ohio St. J. Crim. L.

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While much has been written about money in politics generally, little attention has been paid to money in prosecutor elections specifically. This Symposium Article aims to identify the special interests at play in prosecutor elections. Using an original nationwide dataset of campaign contributions in prosecutor elections, it also seeks to provide insight into the extent of special interests' financial power in those elections.

In accomplishing these two tasks, this Article grapples with the incongruence between ordinary theories of special interests and the office of prosecutor. Most theories have been developed to describe and explain how special interests seek to influence public officials with broad policymaking powers, such as legislatures, chief executives, and even judges. While prosecutors certainly possess important policymaking powers, those powers are far more limited, both in breadth and in scope.

Prosecutor elections are increasingly seen as a way to reform the criminal justice system because prosecutors can use their discretion in individual cases to bring about significant policy changes. But not much is known about prosecutor elections. Only recently have scholars begun to study how often prosecutor elections are contested and what candidates say in those elections. How groups decide whether to support a prosecutorial candidate and when that support takes the form of a campaign contribution are largely unknown. What is more, because the office of local prosecutor differs in important ways from other elected offices, existing theories and ordinary intuitions may not fully describe or explain special interests in prosecutor elections.

This Article aims to help fill that gap. By presenting both hypotheses about special interests in prosecutor elections and actual data about campaign contributions, it seeks to articulate and begin to refine a more nuanced understanding of the role that special interests play in prosecutor elections.

The Article proceeds in three parts. Part I describes the concept of special interests and how those interests generally have been described in the campaign finance literature. That literature treats contributions as either expressive, accessoriented, or some combination of the two. Part IL offers our preliminary thoughts on special interests in prosecutor elections, identifying the various interest groups that might seek to participate in prosecutor elections and discussing how those interests might behave differently than they do in elections for other officials. Part III tests some of the preliminary thoughts offered in Part II using an original dataset of contributions from prosecutor elections. It concludes that, while some interests operate according to expectations, others do not.

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