Book Project

How Politicians React to Anti-Corruption Investigations and Enforcement

My book project examines how reactions by political elites moderate the efficacy of anti-corruption policies. I investigate how uncovering corruption affect electoral accountability and the legislative oversight of the executive branch, as well as the consequences of sanctioning by judicial authorities, including the removal of elected officials and prohibiting candidates to run for office. I show that the effect of anti-corruption policies depends on the ex-ante bargaining power of pivotal political elites who can safeguard an incriminated politician in exchange for rents. The policing role of a corruption network is made easier if the governing elite is small and power is centralized. If this is not the case, incriminated politicians have to share more rents to prevent defections. Material rewards that result from this quid-pro-quo exchange make politicians less likely to defect from the governing coalition, and to coordinate to hold others accountable for malfeasance.

Working Papers

Gehrke, Manoel. Political Survival and Politicians’ Enrichment After Anti-Corruption Audits

Professional and independent audits of governments are considered to be among the most effective tools against political corruption. Since 2003, a large-scale audit program in Brazil uncovered substantial evidence of corruption in most municipal governments. These audits, however, had limited political consequences. In this paper, I provide an explanation for why anti-corruption policies often fail to achieve their full potential. I examine how incriminated mayors react to revelations of corruption by co-opting other local politicians to block legislative oversight. Using the randomization generated by lotteries that decide which municipalities are investigated, I find that audits have different consequences depending on the level of fragmentation of the political elites. I strength of the head of the executive’s party in the legislative branch. In municipalities where the head of the executive (mayor) needs to attract the support of a higher fraction of non-co-partisan legislators to block investigations and remain in office, an anti-corruption audit leads to increases in the rents appropriated by local politicians. Moreover, audits cause increases in the wealth accumulation of councilors in parties that were junior coalition partners of the mayor in the preceding election. These material rewards that result from a political quid-pro-quo exchange make councilors less likely to defect from the governing coalition and to coordinate with others to hold the mayor accountable for malfeasance. These findings help to explain the resilience of corruption even in contexts of high electoral competition and reveal important unintended consequences of anti-corruption policies.

Gehrke, Manoel. Do Biometric Identification Machines Help to Clean Up Elections? Evidence from Colombia.

Biometric identification machines (BIMs) are part of a new set of tools available to prevent electoral fraud. These machines allow electoral authorities to tackle the impersonation of voters and the illegal substitution of poll workers, and are currently used in approximately 40 countries. This paper investigates the electoral consequences of BIMs. Taking advantage of their partial deployment in elections to department assemblies in Colombia, I find that the presence of BIMs, on average, increased the vote shares of incumbent legislators in municipalities that are governed by mayors in same political party. Strong local parties strategically evade BIMs and use aggregation fraud to compensate for potential losses in their strongholds. Meanwhile, voters’ experiences with vote buying and intimidation were unchanged. By highlighting unintended consequences of anti-fraud interventions, my findings corroborate the importance of comprehensive strategies to ensure electoral integrity to avoid that well-connected politicians are able to circumvent controls. 

Book Chapters

Gehrke, Manoel. 2018. Eleições e corrupção nas prefeituras brasileiras [Elections and Corruption in Brazilian Municipal Governments] In: Marenco, André and Noll, Maria Izabel. A política, as políticas e os controles: como são governadas as cidades brasileiras. [Politics, policies and controls. How are Brazilian cities governed?] Tomo Editorial, pp. 171-184.

Gehrke, Manoel. 2022. Digital Technology and Electoral Corruption in Colombia [in preparation]

Work in Progress

Nepotism in Employment and Public Procurement
with Paolo Pinotti (Bocconi), Breno Sampaio (UFPE) and Diego Britto (Bocconi)

Politics and Environmental Degradation in Brazil: Identifying the Effects of Elected Office on Deforestation
with Cesar Martinez (UCLA)

Causes Criminal Accountability: Causes and Consequences of Prosecuting Political Corruption
with Luciano da Ros (UFSC)

How do People Respond when Political Leaders are Convicted for Corruption? Evidence from Public Opinion Across the World
with Feng Yang (Peking University).

Politicians Fight Back: Unintended Consequences of Convictions for Corruption