Published — December 15, 2008 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Bad weather creates perfect storm for dirty politicians


As if destroying houses and displacing people weren’t enough, apparently natural disasters also increase the likelihood of politicians going crooked. A new study, “Weathering Corruption,” published in the Journal of Law and Economics argues that there’s a definite connection between bad weather and political corruption.

“Oddly, the geography of natural disasters maps the geography of corruption extremely well,” wrote the study’s authors, Peter T. Leeson and Russell S. Sobel. “States hit by more natural disasters are more corrupt. . . . It is as though some parts of the United States are cursed with bad weather and dirty politicians while others are blessed with good weather and more scrupulous government officials.”

The common thread of corruption, the authors report, is the influx of federal dollars showered on states hit by natural disasters. States that are hit harder by hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods generally get more money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That money creates more opportunities for politicians inclined to grab a piece of the pie for themselves. Among the worst hit states for both natural disasters and corrupt officials: Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

“This relief creates a resource windfall that increases public corruption,” the study said. “Our findings suggest that every additional $100 per capita in FEMA relief increases the average state’s corruption by nearly 102 percent.”

Leeson and Sobel compared FEMA aid with corruption convictions per capita in all 50 states. The study is replete with figures like the one below, where a spike in FEMA dollars is followed closely by a spike in corruption convictions. There’s a bit of a lag, because, as the authors explain, corrupt officials often don’t reach trial until a year or so after their misdeeds.

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