David Szakonyi (George Washington University): Legislating Corruption in an Authoritarian Parliament: Analyzing New Data on the Russian State Duma

Identifying and explaining variation in corruption within high-level political institutions quickly runs into a series of empirical challenges. Politicians have both strong incentives and the operational means to obfuscate their ill-gotten wealth. To overcome these issues, this paper first brings to bear brand new data on income and asset disclosures for all Russian State Duma deputies from the last three convocations. It then develops several new approaches for detecting corruption that involve cross-checking the disclosures data with administrative and other registries. The methods proposed allow for a more accurate estimation of the true wealth of elected officials, as well as link the pursuit of illicit wealth to politicians’ legislative and voting behavior. Even controlling for party affiliation, deputies that prioritize the personal profit motive while in office overall exert less effort on legislative activity, and when called to vote, align their behavior with the ruling regime’s political agenda. The findings shed light on how authoritarian institutions use corruption to build loyalty among a diverse set of political elites.

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