Patronage is important in developing countries, but its relationship to political competition has received little attention. Major literatures generate opposing predictions. In the good governance and democracy literatures, robust political competition is the antidote to patronage. But for scholars studying the process of democratization, competitive politics is associated with heightened social tensions and instability. Using data from an original survey covering 88% of local governments in Ghana, I show that political competition can increase patronage: where local elections are closely fought by the two main parties, local governments provide significantly more public sector jobs. I use qualitative data from 9 months of fieldwork to show the causal channel. I find a bottom-up phenomenon in which pressures for patronage come from parties’ own volunteers. Volunteers actively use their parties’ vulnerability in competitive elections to extract rewards. I locate the root of volunteers’ power in the nature of the party system, and I demonstrate that for 19 African countries, variation in party system strength is linked to certain forms of clientelism. These findings challenge assumptions that competitive politics will reduce patronage, as well as assumptions that a decline in one form of clientelism means a decline in all forms of clientelism.