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How Politicians React to Anti-Corruption Investigations and Enforcement. Evidence from Brazilian Municipalities


This dissertation examines how reactions by political elites moderate the efficacy of anti-corruption policies. The focus is on how their reactions explain the resilience of corruption and the limit the functioning of different tools of democratic systems: electoral accountability, legislative oversight of the executive branch and the sanctioning of corruption by judicial authorities. I study these in the context of policies to curb corruption in Brazilian municipal governments that have been implemented since the beginning of the 2000s.

Professional and independent audits uncovered substantial evidence of corruption in most municipal governments but did not lead to substantial electoral consequences. I demonstrate that one ways through which Brazilian mayors avoid damages to their careers by changing their rent-sharing strategies. After an audit, they share more of the spoils of holding office with council members who are crucial for their short-term survival in government. If the share of legislators from their own party is low, council members benefit from a larger increase in their wealth. This makes council members less likely to defect from the mayors' coalition and helps mayors to get the support from other political parties in the subsequent election. This suggest that short-term gains targeted at specific individuals might come at the expense of long-run transformations in municipal governments.

In addition, mayors and potential participants in corrupt transactions respond to the removal from office of neighboring mayors, a visible form of punishment for corruption, by engaging less in activities that might latter result in their own conviction. My findings corroborate the resilience of the political elites to interventions that might undermine the status quo as well as their ability to adapt their behavior to new circumstances.

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