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Partisan Bias in Federal Public Corruption Prosecutions

- December 16, 2009

Continuing the APSR/corruption thread, Sandy Gordon has an interesting article in the most recent issue of the American Political Science Review that investigates whether prosecutorial discretion has been used to target political opponents and shield political allies. This is, of course, a very current question following the 2007 U.S. Attorney firing scandal. Sandy develops a simple but powerful model that predicts that biased prosecutors are willing to file weaker cases against political opponents than against political allies. In other words, a biased prosecutor tends to only go after the most obviously corrupt allies but spans a much wider net for partisan opponents. In the courtroom, the weakness of the cases against opponents should become evident. So, if bias plays a role one would expect that sentences of prosecuted opponents are generally lower than sentences of prosecuted allies.

Sandy finds a good deal of evidence for this hypothesis under both the Bush (II) and Clinton justice departments. In his estimation, the bias was worse under the Bush justice department, although this assessment is difficult to make. The good news for Republicans is that both under the Bush and Clinton departments, Democrats were the more frequent target of corruption prosections. As they say, go read the whole thing.

Assessing Partisan Bias in Federal Public Corruption Prosecutions

Disclosure: Sandy and I went to grad school together.