Political corruption distorts the political and policy process and renders it more favourable to certain groups and less effective generally. Recent research has yielded a wealth of new knowledge about the impact of certain economic, political and institutional conditions on corruption, but what can be done to change the prevalence of corruption in contemporary politics?
Project researchers from work package (WP) 11 presented at the ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops (29 March-2 April) on the topic “The intricacies of accountability: horizontal, vertical and diagonal mechanisms to combat corruption”. The session, coordinated by Marcia Grimes, focused on the impact of accountability mechanisms, whether intragovernmental (horizontal), electoral (vertical) or societal (diagonal). Researchers Heather Marquette (Caryn Peiffer), Paul Heywood, ERCAS researcher Bianca Vaz Mondo, Philipp Köker (Allan Sikk), and Nicholas Charron along with Project Manager Andreas Bågenholm and Scientific Coordinator Monika Bauhr presented.
Evidence exists that the effectiveness of each of the three accountability mechanisms is dependent on a range of contextual factors, such as: whether or not media actors are autonomous, if meaningful political competition exists or not, the level of education in a polity, the strength and autonomy of civil society, the politicization of corruption as an issue and the existence of an anti-corruption discourse in political debates, and of course on the specific design of the governmental and electoral institutions themselves. For example, the existence of civil society associations focused on anti-corruption may result in a higher likelihood of the removal of corrupt politicians via elections. An audit office that routinely publishes performance reports may prove instrumental to the success of in civil society efforts to hold corrupt offices to account.
A few researchers presented work challenging the notion that electoral accountability is a deterrent for corrupt behaviour, i.e., the notion that if politicians are corrupt they will not be in office for long because voters will vote them out of office. In “Accountability as a Deterrent to Corruption: New Evidence from Brazilian Municipalities” Bianca Vaz Mondo (ERCAS, Hertie School of Governance) uses unique data from audits of randomly selected Brazilian municipalities to examine a number of hypotheses relevant to the theme of the workshop. Most notably, she finds that a strong civil society is related to reductions in the prevalence of corruption in Brazilian municipalities, but only when there is a local radio station exists in the municipality. In contrast, the analyses do not reveal any evidence that electoral accountability affects levels of corruption.
Quality of Nicholas Charron presented preliminary results in the paper “Weberian Civil Service Practices and Institutional Quality: Evidence from U.S. State Judicial Systems” suggesting that when judges are directly elected and run on a party ballot, states perform considerably worse on indicators that reflect corruption and impartiality.
University College London researchers Allan Sikk and Philipp Koker examined the impact of corruption on candidate turnover in “Replacing the Rascals? Corruption and Candidate Turnover in Central and Eastern Europe”. Based on a novel data set of candidates lists from 9 countries their analysis suggests that increasing levels of corruption are hindering the regular turnover of parliamentary candidates, yet only in parties participating in the government.
The workshop allowed WP11 partners to showcase their work and, more importantly, receive feedback from other researchers active in the field. The concluding discussion identified a number of issues that participants saw as in need of continued attention, such as continued exploration of the ways in which well-functioning government institutions constitutes a principal agent problem, and what aspects can only be understood as a collective action dilemma. Though methodologically challenging, participants also saw a need for continued work on measurement, causation, and explorations of how combinations of conditions contribute to reductions in corruption.