Tipping the Scales? Testing for Political Influence on Public Corruption Prosecutions (with B. Nyhan)Revisions Requested by the American Law and Economics Review

Political ties and the need to cultivate support for nominations to higher office create a conflict of interest for U.S. attorneys and the prosecutors they supervise in political corruption cases. How severe is this problem? Contrary to previous research, prosecutors do not appear to bring weaker cases against opposition party defendants before elections; we find no measurable difference in conviction rates and some evidence that co-partisans received \emph{less} favorable treatment in plea bargains and sentencing until recently. However, we observe partisan differences in the \emph{timing} of public corruption case filings that we attribute to the career incentives facing prosecutors. Relative to the president's co-partisans, opposition defendants are more likely to be charged immediately before an election than afterward. We find a corresponding difference in case duration, suggesting prosecutors move more quickly to file cases against opposition partisans. These timing differences are associated with greater promotion rates to appointed political office.

Papers

“Are Two Heads More Lenient Than One?" (with C. Yang)

Despite the fact the prosecutors possess enormous discretion in charging and plea bargaining, very little is known about how the assignment of prosecutors affects case outcomes. Using new data linking federal cases to the entire sequence of prosecutors assigned to each case, we compare outcomes in cases where the same prosecutor handles the case from filing to disposition to cases where due to plausibly exogenous departures from the office, a second prosecutor handles the case between filing and disposition. We find that cases are resolved more favorably to the defendant when a new prosecutor takes over the case. Following a departure, a replacement prosecutor is 30% (6.5 percentage points) more likely to choose to drop at least one charge and 15% (2 percentage points) more likely to choose to drop a charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence. Defendants with replacement prosecutors are also 7.1% (5.8 percentage points) less likely to be found guilty and 10.4% (7.3 percentage points) less likely to be incarcerated.

Work in Progress

Partial Reporting: Evidence from Charitable Giving (with D. Shack)

Of necessity, many tax-price elasticities are calculated from tax return data. Survey data on families' charitable giving and reporting on their tax returns indicate that reporting is a significant part of tax-price elasticity estimates. Roughly a quarter of the tax-price elasticity estimated from tax returns represents changes in reporting as opposed to changes in actual donations. These results are consistent with a model in which individuals face unit costs of reporting in addition to any fixed cost of itemization.

“Maternal Obesity and Geographic Variation in C-section Rates" (with E. Johnson)

Using confidential National Centers for Health Statistics (NCHS) Vital Statistics (VS) data for 2009-2013, we decompose the variance in C-section rates across geographic areas using ANOVA techniques.   We determine the share of the cross-sectional variation can be attributed to previously-studied factors, including: clinical risk factors, socioeconomic status, area characteristics including measures of health care capacity and malpractice environment; as well as the contribution of pre-pregnancy weight and weight gain during pregnancy. Our rich clinical factors and practice environment measures are able to explain far more of the regional variation in C-sections than previous studies.  Maternal weight explains only a small fraction of the county-level variation in C-section rates across the U.S.  However, there remains a substantial role for differences in OB practice style, and, in particular, it appears that physicians’ management of obese women’s labors is affected by the prevalence of obesity in their practice area.

A Doctor Will See you Now : Provider Continuity and Patient Outcomes(with E Johnson, D. Carusi and D. Chan)

We estimate the effect of physician-patient relationships on clinical decisions in a setting where the treating physician is as good as randomly assigned. OBs are 25% (4 percentage points) \textbf{more} likely to perform a C-section when delivering patients with whom they have a pre-existing clinical relationship (their own patients") than when delivering patients with whom they had no prior relationship. OBs' decisions are consistent with receiving greater disutility from their own patients' difficult labors. After a string of difficult labors, OBs are more likely to perform C-sections on their own patients, and this can explain the entire own patient effect. JEL: I11, J16, J44

Also available as NBER Working Paper #22666