"Can Transitional Justice Improve the Quality of Representation in New Democracies?" (with Monika Nalepa). 2019. World Politics 71 (4).

Can transitional justice enhance democratic representation in countries recovering from authoritarian rule? The authors argue that lustration, a policy that reveals secret collaboration with the authoritarian regime, can prevent former authoritarian elites from extorting policy concessions from past collaborators who have been elected as politicians in the new regime. Absent lustration, former elites can threaten to reveal information about past collaboration unless the politicians implement policies these elites desire. In this way, lustration policies enable politicians to avoid blackmail and to be responsive to their constituents, improving the quality of representation. The authors show that whether lustration enhances representation depends on its severity and the extent to which dissidents-turned-politicians would suffer if the skeletons in their closets were revealed. The authors also find that the potential to blackmail politicians increases as the ideological distance between authoritarian elites and politicians decreases. They test this theory with original data from the Global Transitional Justice Dataset, which spans eighty-four countries that transitioned to democracy since 1946.

Under review

"Criminal Contagion: How Governor Detentions Weakened the PRI"

Recent years have witnessed an unprecedented rise of Mexican governors prosecuted and incarcerated for corruption, most of which were from the ruling party PRI. Could these criminal cases partly explain the strepitous electoral loss suffered by the PRI party in 2018? In this paper, I argue that the criminal corruption scandals of PRI governors had two distinct but related effect. First, prosecutions affected the partisan reputation of the PRI by portraying these criminal actions as evidence not only of individual malfeasance, but of networks that enabled corruption. Such networks, I show, were often embodied in the PRI party. Second, I argue that these discourses affected electoral choice. I propose that if these discourses were indeed affecting the PRI vote, we should observe lower support for PRI among voters that are most exposed to these discourses such as voters of places with criminal governors and voters in districts with higher access to internet. I present a difference-in-difference and a cross-sectional analysis to show that both of these groups indeed voted less frequently for the PRI. I conclude the paper by discussing the aftermath of the election and what the existence of this contagion means for accountability.

"Short-Circuiting Democratization: Bureaucratic Logics and Spurious Criminal Charges in Mexico" (with Yuna Blajer de la Garza). Revised and Resubmitted.

In this paper, we use a novel survey of imprisoned populations in Mexico to study the relationship between socioeconomic vulnerabilities and due process violations. We further investigate whether institutional reforms – in particular, in the form of reforms to public defenders’ offices – help offset the impact of preexisting socioeconomic disparities on the like- lihood of suffering a due process violation in the initial interaction between an individual and the judicial apparatus of the Mexican state. We find that people with less schooling, women, and indigenous people are indeed more likely to suffer a due process violation. Additionally, a 2008 constitutionally mandated reform to provide quality public defenders has done little to alleviate this situation. Although it has overall improved the experience of defendants – whether represented by private or public council – it has failed to create a public defenders office that successfully functions as an equalizing mechanism to offset pre-existing socioeco- nomic inequalities. Instead, our analysis suggests that those who are most benefited by these reforms are those who did not needed them as much to begin with: those who rely on private lawyers for their legal representation. This paper contributes to the literature interested in crit- ically studying the idea of equality under the law and the mechanisms that seek to guarantee it.

Working papers

"Corrupting Accountability: Towards a Comparative Account of Corruption Prosecution"

It is widely believed that democracies are institutionally better equipped to prose- cute corruption than autocracies, but this claim has not been systematically tested. This paper presents a comparative theory of prosecution by focusing on how spe- cific institutions shape the probability of prosecution. Using a game theoretical approach, I find that incumbents are more likely to prosecute challengers when they face more competition and when they are constrained in its use of coercive threats or positive rewards. I test the empirical implications of the model using an original dataset of prosecutions of past Mexican governors by their successors. The evidence presented here supports the claim that democracies prosecute more than autocracies. Contrary to what existing research has signaled, however, this finding can be attributed to the fact that in democracies the executive lack other means to attack his challengers, and not because democratic competition increases information, nor because oversight prevents corruption overall.

"Guilty by Association: The Spillover Effects of Corruption-Related Prosecutions"

Corrupt politicians are expected to be held accountable when they are caught in wrong- doing, but does their involvement in a criminal trial affect the way voters cast votes for their co-partisans? In this paper, I leverage variation in criminal corruption charges among Mexican governors after the legislative elections of 2015 to identify if such pro- ceedings affected the votes received by legislators in 2018. I find that legislative can- didates in districts where governors were involved in a criminal trial received around 6% less votes than legislators in districts with governors that were not involved in a criminal trial. This effect exist independently of the existence of corruption scandals, suggesting that criminal trials can shape citizen’s political actions even in countries like Mexico, where corruption is pervasive and trust in the judiciary is extremely low. This electoral punishment, which I call "guilt by association," can help scholars understand the role that criminalization of corruption can play in enforcing vertical accountability mechanisms in developing democracies.

"Short-Circuiting Democratization: Bureaucratic Logics and Spurious Criminal Charges in Mexico" (with Yuna Blajer de la Garza)

Scholars have long paid attention to the persistence of judicial wrongdoing, understood as strategic manipulation of the courts, for example in authoritarian regimes, or as a byproduct of state weakness. Yet, the phenomena of manufacturing criminal charges that are blatantly false and even outright ludicrous remains understudied. In this paper, we analyze the use of false criminal charges in Mexico, where absurd accusations remain common even after democratization. First, we propose that democratization contributed to a faulty bureaucratic logic focused on improving statistical measures of perceived efficiency. Second, we find that politicians under democracy can take political advantage of botched criminal cases by harnessing public outrage when convenient, thus hindering political incentives to professionalize the judiciary. In a theory-building exercise, we analyze a case of incarceration in democratic Mexico as an extreme example of made up charges, showing how this strategy is enabled by democratization and not despite of it.

"Ruling through Scandal: Authoritarian Motives and Democratic Accountability"

Is prosecuting a corrupt politician synonymous with holding him accountable? Current literature suggests that lawfully prosecuting malfeasance signals that demo- cratic accountability functions as it should, which in turn can improve the rela- tionship between citizens and their governmental institutions. Contrary to this expectation, I argue that citizens can find judicial processes legally adequate and even desirable, but also authoritarian. This ambivalence further alienates citizens from their governments by associating the lawful prosecution of corruption with despotic power, instead of considering it an instance of accountability. I substanti- ate this argument by presenting two instances of prosecutions of notoriously corrupt politicians that elicited very similar reactions. In both cases, accounts in the media regarded the arrests as lawful and necessary, yet at the same time they identified an authoritarian motive behind those arrests. These reactions are found even in the presence of democratic institutions that are expected to limit the coercive power of the executive. I conclude by suggesting that the expectations that we place on institutions that punish corruption might need to consider contextual variables to assess their efficacy, such as possible legacies of authoritarianism in the form of political language and memory.

"Identifying the Effect of Personnel Transitional Justice on the Quality of Democratic Representation" (with Monika Nalepa and Genevieve Bates)

Does transitional justice hinder or help democracy? This is a question hard to ad- dress methodologically because countries embarking on transitional justice may be the same ones that would have had a successful pathway to democratization. Hence the problem of identifying the causal relationship between transitional justice and quality of democracy. To resolve it, we leverage one of the problems associated with cod- ing transitional justice events. In 2016 that Onur Bakiner criticized one of the leading assumptions in the transitional justice literature: that mechanisms for dealing with the past can be assigned a discrete implementation date. This assumption is unwar- ranted because scholars have difficulty assigning a fixed year of implementation. To take truth commission as an example, qualitative research associates two to four years for the operation of truth commissions (Bakiner 2016). We address the criticism by organizing data on all truth revelation procedures (truth commissions and lustrations) as a time series of events. Not only is this more accurate/faithful to the process on the ground, but it allows us to implement a diff-in-diff research design to identify the ca- sual effect of truth revelation procedures to the quality of democracy. We use quality of democracy indicators from V-Dem and merge them with our Global Transitional Justice Dataset to find convincing evidence that truth revelation procedures and truth commissions in particular, decrease the level of political corruption and help decrease the influence of former authoritarian elites.

"Justice for Some? Public Defenders in Dysfunctional Justice Systems"

Current studies have argued that the criminal justice system can reproduce and even exacerbate existing inequalities because vulnerable populations do not have access to adequate legal representation. I propose to analyze the workings of the offices of public defenders in Mexico, institutions whose goal is to provide adequate legal defense to vulnerable populations in a country characterized for its dysfunctional judicial system. Specifically, I argue that offices that are created to fulfill patronage promises hinder the legal representation of those most vulnerable via two mechanisms: offices are staffed with inefficient workers, and workers lack oversight (which entices shirking) and long-term career prospects (which entices petty corruption). I propose to gather data on the career paths of state attorneys and public defenders, and to conduct interviews and observation in three public defender of- fices (PDOs) to show that patronage-based PDOs are costlier not only for taxpayers, but also for vulnerable populations facing a criminal trial.

Participation in research groups

Transitional Justice and Democratic Stability Lab (Dept. of Political Science, University of Chicago)

I am a part of the [Transitional Justice and Democratic Stability Lab][], a UChicago-based lab interested in the study of transitional justice and its effects on democratic life.

Support for Authoritarian Rule in Democracies (UIC-UMich-UChicago)

Starting in 2019, I began collaborating with Alexandra Filindra (UIC), Beyza Buyuker (UIC), and Dan Slater (U-Mich) to study the individual-level determinants of support for authoritarian rule in democratic countries.

Campaign Finance Capture Index (Stigler Center, Booth School of Businness)

In 2015-2016, I participated with the Stigler Center to create the [Campaign Finance Capture Index][], an index that measures the extent to which political campaigns receive money from big donors.