Study finds link between political corruption and FEMA money

Dec 11, 2008

Where natural disasters strike, political corruption is soon to follow, say the authors of a study in the Journal of Law and Economics. But it's not the wind and rain that turns good folks bad; it's the money that floods in afterwards from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We find each $100 of FEMA-provided disaster relief increases the average state's corruption by nearly 102 percent," write Peter Leeson (George Mason) and Russell Sobel (West Virginia U.). "Our findings suggest that notoriously corrupt regions of the United States, such as the Gulf Coast, are in part notoriously corrupt because natural disasters frequently strike them. They attract more disaster relief, which makes them more corrupt."

Leeson and Sobel base their conclusions on a statistical model that measured the relationship between FEMA allocations and corruption in each U.S. state. The researchers quantified corruption as the number of per capita convictions of public officials for crimes such as embezzlement, accepting bribes or kickbacks, extortion and unlawful dealings with private vendors or contractors.

Hurricane-prone states like Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana, which receive large amounts of FEMA money, tend to have more corruption convictions per capita. States like Nebraska and Colorado, which receive almost no FEMA dollars, have least corruption.

Leeson and Sobel also found notable spikes in corruption convictions in the year following influxes of FEMA money in a given area. For example, in 1997 Minnesota received around $300 million from FEMA after the Red River Flood. In 1998, corruption convictions in Minnesota spiked to 14 per 100,000 citizens from less than two per 100,000 the year before.

The data used in the study were from 1990 to 1999, so the Katrina and Rita disasters of 2005 are not included. But Leeson and Sobel say the preliminary numbers indicate the aftermath of those disasters appears consistent with their finding. Federal prosecutors have thus far charged 700 individuals with crimes related to the nearly $33 billion FEMA allocated to deal with the disasters, they say.

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: Teen catches math error in golden ratio at Boston museum

Related Stories

Shark's unique trek could help save the species

3 hours ago

Her name is Jiffy Lube2, a relatively small shortfin mako shark that, like others of her kind, swims long distances every day in search of prey and comfortable water temperatures.

New Horizons spacecraft experiences anomaly

3 hours ago

The New Horizons spacecraft experienced an anomaly the afternoon of July 4 that led to a loss of communication with Earth. Communication has since been reestablished and the spacecraft is healthy.

Dwarf planet Ceres offers big surprises for scientists

3 hours ago

The closer we get to Ceres, the more perplexing the dwarf planet grows. NASA's Dawn spacecraft has found several more bright spots as well as a pyramid-like peak jutting out of the frigid world's surface.

Recommended for you

Senate, House look to update Bush-era education law

20 hours ago

Congress is making another run at rewriting the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law, even as the Obama administration urges changes it says would ensure that schools are held accountable when their ...

Lady, you're on the money

Jul 03, 2015

So far, women whose portraits appear on U.S. money have been a party of three. Excluding commemorative currency, only Sacagawea, Susan B. Anthony and Helen Keller appear on coins in general circulation, according ...

Another five things to know about meta-analysis

Jul 01, 2015

Last year I wrote a post of "5 Key Things to Know About Meta-Analysis". It was a great way to focus – but it was hard keeping to only 5. With meta-analyses booming, including many that are poorly done or ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

bhiestand
not rated yet Dec 12, 2008
$100 increases corruption 102%? Sounds like a mistake in the article. Perhaps $100 per capita or $100M?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.