The Political Cost of Corruption: Scandals, Campaign Finance, and Reelection in the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies

Ivan Chaves Jucá, Marcus André Melo, Lucio Rennó

Abstract


While corruption is widely disapproved of, some corrupt politicians continue to win elections. We tackle this paradox by examining the effects of malfeasance scandals in politicians’ behavior. In particular, we focus on their campaign finance strategies and career choices. We explore these issues empirically with an original dataset that includes all lower-house members of Congress (MCs) in Brazil from 1995 to 2010. Although tainted incumbents tend to be penalized electorally, we show that campaign spending attenuates this effect. These results are robust, controlling for a host of potential confounders and biases. Hence, we offer a first exploration of incumbents’ strategies to avoid the electoral cost of their publicized wrongdoings. Above a certain threshold of funding, Brazilian members of Congress become impervious to negative exposure, regardless of the severity of their ethical and/or criminal violations. These results carry important normative consequences in terms of regulating campaign financing as a means of improving accountability.

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