Tipping the Scales?

Testing for Political Influence on Public Corruption Prosecutions
Faculty Scholarship
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Dartmouth College, Department of Government,
CIFAR and University of British Columbia, Dept. of Economics,

The need to cultivate political support for nominations to higher office creates a conflict of interest for U.S. attorneys and the prosecutors they supervise in cases involving the two major parties. We find evidence of partisan differences in the timing of public corruption case filings around elections. Relative to the president’s co-partisans, opposition party defendants are more likely to be charged immediately before an election than afterward. We find a corresponding decrease in case duration before elections for opposition partisans, suggesting prosecutors are moving more quickly to file cases. These timing differences are associated with greater promotion rates to the federal bench (for U.S. attorneys) and to U.S. attorney (for assistant U.S. attorneys). However, prosecutors do not appear to bring weaker cases against opposition defendants before elections; we find no measurable difference in conviction rates and actually show that co-partisans received less favorable treatment in plea bargains and sentencing until recently.