Last week I was at IPSA’s world congress in Madrid where I presented a paper on sub-national corruption prosecutions in Indonesia (abstract here). The list of panels is available here; there were 12 panels in this section (and other panels on corruption in some other sections), so around 50+ papers in total!
Overall the main thing that stood out was a sense in some of the sessions that research on corruption is at an impasse. This was particularly the case in this panel–Corruption and Democratic Governance: New Approaches, New Evidence–where the President of IPSA was the discussant and was particularly pessimistic. This impasse was often discussed in terms of the failure to reduce corruption in the past 20 years (the exceptions always mentioned are Singapore and Hong Kong–although there’s been some interesting news on the latter recently). I think there are at least four reasons for the impasse:
First, the literature is too reliant on large-N cross-country comparisons–I’m just not convinced that throwing more IVs into a regression with TI’s corruption perceptions index is going to move things forward. There needs to be more sub-national comparisons and carefully matched comparative analysis.
Second, and despite some notable efforts at clarifying the concept of corruption (I particularly like Gambetta’s and Philps’s contributions in the edited volume Political Corruption in Transition: A Sceptic’s Handbook), there’s still a lot of confusion around the definition and conceptualisation of corruption. Researchers need to be a little more pragmatic–there’s probably never going to be a definition of corruption that applies in every context, but that doesn’t mean we can’t outline and agree on some key characteristics and it certainly doesn’t mean that comparative analysis is impossible.
Third, there’s too much morality in discussions–“no, stating that a corruption eradication institution is not working does not mean that I personally endorse corruption”. Passion for one’s subject is important and helps sustain motivation–but there needs to be more cold-hearted analysis of corruption.
Fourth, the appeal to culture as an explanation is not at all useful; unless the analyst can be far more specific about what aspect of a country’s culture is responsible for corruption, i.e. specific social norms, values, institutions.
Overall the quality of the panels was variable, as you’d expect in such a large conference/section. (As an aside, I think conference and panel organisers need to shift from a focus on quantity to quality–fewer, better papers would have improved discussion and, in my view, moved debates forward in many of the panels I attended.) Here’s the abstracts for a few papers I enjoyed:
Rooting Out Corruption or Rooting For Corruption? The Electoral Consequences of Corruption Scandals in Spain, 2003-2011
Pablo Barberá, Pablo Fernández-Vázquez and Gonzalo Rivero
In this article we analyze the electoral consequences of corruption scandals in the 2007 and 2011 Spanish local elections. Previous studies on this case Jiménez (2007); Rivero and Fernández-Vázquez (2010); Costas et al. (2010) have found that voters are not immune to scandals, but corrupt majors barely suffer electoral consequences to their actions. This conclusion is consistent with the consensus in the comparative literature that corruption has a significant but mild electoral effect (Golden, 2006). However, these studies have assumed that voters punish equally all sorts of corrupt practices. We challenge this assumption by distinguishing between two types of corruption, according to the type of welfare consequences they have for the municipality. We find that voters ignore or even reward corruption when there are side benefits to it, and that punishment is only concentrated in those cases in which they do not receive a compensation. Our results also show that the electoral punishment is smaller in magnitude when the corrupt incumbent retires, and when the media coverage of the scandal is not broad.
“Homines Novi”, Transparency and Democracy: Portuguese MPs’ Registers of Interests: A Longitudinal Analysis (1995-2010)
Thierry Dias Coelho
Several studies on corruption have highlighted a major change in the profile of democratic elites, with the emergence of a new type of actors: the “Business Politicians”. Borrowing Max Weber’s words, it is clear that these agents not only live “from and for politics”, but also “from and for corruption”, a quite revealing trait of what democratic representation has turned into. In a way, this economic perspective on corruption is not recent, although it is quite clear that the more transparent politicians’ Registers of Interests are, the fewer opportunities of power selling shall arise. In Portugal, transparency of political elites is regulated by law since 1993. However, it does not apply to all in the same way. This paper aims to present the results of an empirical study on the Registers of Interests of Portuguese MPs, in the period between 1995 and 2010. In order to typify these interests we applied a multimethod approach: qualitative study of primary sources, prosopographical curricula analysis, and social network analysis. We argue that, like in many other democracies, the figure of the “Business Politician” has arisen in contemporary Portuguese politics. In this sense, we found intense conflicts of interests, in what can be seen as a growing collusion between public and private spheres. How can we portray these interests? What conclusions can we draw about the transparency of Portuguese MPs’ activities? To what extent can we speak about transparency regarding Portugal?
Keep on Keepin’ On: Clean Elections and the Evolving Role of Candidates, Activists, and Donors on State-Level Elections
This paper evaluates the impact of the federal Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) and the implementation of public campaign funding on fundraising patterns of state party political action committees (PACs). Research findings indicate that state party PACs have adapted to these campaign finance reforms by relying more on “super donors,” candidate committees and ideological groups as their primary source of funding. The results suggest that, though BCRA and public funding campaign reform schemes have changed the behavior of state parties, these reforms have not created wholesale changes to the political system but rather tend to reinforce the status quo. Consequently, state party leaders have adapted to these changes very successfully. Therefore the state political parties have not only maintained their political relevance amid federal and state campaign reforms but also have become more influential in the electoral process.