Research

I conduct research on comparative politics, political corruption, and political accountability, with a regional focus on Latin America.

Dissertation Research

corruption

My dissertation and book project examine how political elites react to anti-corruption interventions. I analyze the consequences of interventions such as independent audits of municipal governments, and removals from office because of corruption, in the context of Brazilian municipalities. I demonstrate how the strategies adopted by political elites in order to remain in power after corruption is revealed affect the efficacy of anti-corruption policies. I use evidence from a natural experiment and from quasi-experimental methods in addition to extensive archival research (e.g. judicial records and data on politician’s assets).

Working Papers

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, audits uncovered substantial evidence of corruption and maladministration in Brazilian municipal governments. Using the randomization generated by the lotteries that decide which municipalities are investigated, I find that audits lead to an abnormal increases in the wealth accumulation of politicians in critical positions for the mayors’ political survival. City council members whose individual support is more valuable for the mayor to avoid further investigations, and vice-mayors, who would replace the mayor in case of impeachment, experience a substantial increase in their wealth as a result of an anti-corruption audit. The growth in politicians’ wealth, including those in other political parties, makes them less likely to defect from governing coalitions, helping malfeasant mayors and their parties to stay in government. These findings reveal an important reason why so many anti-corruption initiatives do not succeed, even in contexts of high electoral competition: the capacity of public officials to reward others in exchange for political support.

“Can Judges and the Press Stop Corruption?”

(please ask me for a draft of the paper)

Most of the current literature on electoral sanctioning of corruption finds that even when voters are informed about wrongdoing, corrupt politicians are frequently reelected. This result raises serious concerns about the ability of democracies to create incentives for politicians not to engage in malfeasance. This paper asks a different but related question: does the judicial punishment of corrupt politicians deter political corruption? Surprisingly little systematic evidence to this fundamental question exist, especially for developing democracies. I address it by assessing whether the removal of corrupt mayors from office in Brazil deters corruption in neighboring municipalities and exploit the geographical configuration of local television markets. My analyses indicate that mayors of municipalities in the same television market as a mayor who has been removed from office are significantly less likely to be found guilty of corruption. The deterrence of corruption, however, is conditional on the ownership structure of the media: when the local television affiliate is owned by an active politician, local governments are not responsive to the removal of neighboring mayors. I also show that the deterrence effect is not explained by the electoral sanctioning of incumbent mayors.

 

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 and whether political parties use other kinds of electoral fraud to compensate for the potential effects of the new controls. 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.

 

On-going Projects

Ombuds Offices: More Responsive Governments or Redundant Bureaucracy?

Political and Welfare Consequences of a major public housing program (My House, My Life) in Brazil.

Book Chapter

(In Portuguese)

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?] Porto Alegre: Tomo Editorial, pp. 171-184.

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Invited Talks:

Tinker Conference: Rule of Law in Latin America at Stanford University

“Dialogues about Political Corruption”. State Court of Accounts of Rio Grande do Sul.  discussed in TCE-Radio.

What’s behind Brazil’s economic and political crises? UCLA Center for Brazilian Studies. Latin American Institute, Discussed in UOL and UCLA Newsroom.

 

I have presented my research at the following conferences:

American Political Science Association (APSA), 2015 and 2018.

Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA), 2016.

Annual Meeting of the Brazilian Econometric Society (SBE), 2012

Advancing Electoral Research (ELECDEM), 2013.