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Assessing Partisan Bias in Federal Public Corruption Prosecutions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 November 2009

New York University
Sanford C. Gordon is Associate Professor, Wilf Family Department of Politics, New York University, 19 W. 4th Street, New York, NY 10012 (


The 2007 U.S. Attorney firing scandal raised the specter of political bias in the prosecution of officials under federal corruption laws. Has prosecutorial discretion been employed to persecute enemies or shield allies? To answer this question, I develop a model of the interaction between officials contemplating corruption and a prosecutor deciding whether to pursue cases against them. Biased prosecutors will be willing to file weaker cases against political opponents than against allies. Consequently, the model anticipates that in the presence of partisan bias, sentences of prosecuted opponents will tend to be lower than those of co-partisans. Employing newly collected data on public corruption prosecutions, I find evidence of partisan bias under both Bush (II) and Clinton Justice Departments. However, additional evidence suggests that these results may understate the extent of bias under Bush, while overstating it under Clinton.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2009

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