Buying a Blind Eye: Campaign Donations, Forbearance, and Deforestation in Colombia
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While existing work has demonstrated that campaign donations can buy access to benefits such as favorable legislation and preferential contracting, we highlight another use of campaign contributions: buying forbearance. Specifically, we argue that in return for campaign contributions, Colombian mayors who rely on donor-funding (compared to those who do not) choose not to enforce sanctions against illegal deforestation activities. Using a regression discontinuity design we show that deforestation is significantly higher in municipalities that elect donor-funded as opposed to self-funded politicians. Further analysis shows that only part of this effect can be explained by differences is contracting practices by donor-funded mayors. Instead, evidence from analysis of fire clearance, and of heterogeneity in the effects according to the presence of alternative formal and informal enforcement institutions, supports the interpretation that campaign contributions buy forbearance from enforcement of environmental regulations.