Essays on the Political Economy of Local Corruption

Elena Costas-Pérez

October 17, 2014

Albert Solé-Ollé | Pilar Sorribas

The three empirical studies included in this dissertation reflect a scenario in which different factors represent hurdles for electoral accountability in corruption scandals. First and foremost, the biased provision of information by the media does not allow citizens to be accurately informed about their political representatives’ behaviour. If they do not have reliable information on their government’s illicit activities, they will not be able to punish corrupt politicians in elections. Also, the fact that political scandals seem to persist over time, regardless of the government in office, erodes citizens’ faith in the capacity of the democratic system to keep politicians accountable. As a consequence, politically alienated individuals stop making use of democratic tools such as elections. Spain offers a context wherein the existence of a highly politicised media sector and a strong degree of partisanship among citizens make it easier for corrupt local politicians to stay in power. Both factors could be a consequence of a political system dominated by strong parties, a typical feature of the Spanish system. Nevertheless, this thesis provides strong evidence that, even under a biased provision of news, Spanish voters are willing to electorally punish corrupt practices. Together with the significant number of cases recently unveiled by media and investigations undertaken by individuals or citizens’ organizations through different digital platforms, we can be optimistic about the evaluation of practices to control corruption. The promotion of policies that endorse media freedom and independence would also reduce the influence of political powers on Spanish media. Taken together, these factors would have a clear positive effect on electoral accountability, allowing citizens to obtain the impartial information they need to use elections as a way to constrain corrupt practices.