Abstract: To what extent can audits serve to limit patronage and corrupt networks effectively and sustainably in clientelist societies with a prevailing norm of corruption? We develop a political agency model in which office holders are motivated to reduce rent seeking behavior through re-election incentives operating via elections and audits (formal institutions), but also through reputational concerns that are influenced by the prevailing norm on corruption in their peer group (informal institutions). We show that, while the formal institutions of audits and elections have the desired direct effect of reducing corruption, they also affect informal rules of conduct, which can have unintended effects. We then apply this theoretical framework to evidence from Puerto Rico’s anti-corruption municipal audits program over the period 1987-2014, and argue that the interaction of elections, audits, and norms can help explain a peculiar pattern in the data. Using a quasi-experimental design based on the exogenous timing of audits relative to elections, we find that mayors respond positively to audits in their own community, but negatively to audits - and the corresponding reduction in corruption - in neighboring municipalities. Our estimates suggest a large negative spillover effect: communities where two-thirds of adjacent jurisdictions undergo a (timely) audit experience a 30 percent increase in reported corruption levels.
Keywords: corruption; rent-seeking; public sector accounting and audits; social norms; institutional arrangements
JEL Classification: D72; H83; K42; O17