Sunshine as Disinfectant: The Effect of State Freedom of Information Act Laws on Public Corruption
Adriana S. Cordis
Patrick L. Warren
Clemson University - John E. Walker Department of Economics
April 2, 2012
This paper investigates the effect of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws on public corruption in the United States. Specifically, it assesses the impact of switching from a weak to a strong state-level FOIA law on corruption convictions of state and local government officials. The evidence suggests that strengthening FOIA laws has two offsetting effects: reducing corruption levels and increasing the probability that corrupt acts are detected. The conflation of these two effects led prior work to find little impact of FOIA on corruption. We find that corruption conviction rates approximately double after the switch, which suggests an increase in detection probabilities. However, corruption conviction rates decline from this new elevated level as the time since the switch from weak to strong FOIA increases. This decline is consistent with officials reducing the rate at which they commit corrupt acts by about forty percent. There is no concomitant change in the corruption convictions of federal officials in these same states.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 43
Keywords: FOIA, Sunshine, Corruption, Open Government
JEL Classification: D73, D78, H11, K0working papers series
Date posted: September 6, 2011 ; Last revised: April 15, 2012
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