Catch me if you care: International development organizations and national corruption

  • Lauren L. FerryEmail author
  • Emilie M. Hafner-BurtonEmail author
  • Christina J. SchneiderEmail author


Many international development organizations (IDOs) have officially mandated anti-corruption criteria for aid selectivity. Substantial debate remains over whether corruption deters aid and whether anti-corruption rules are effectively implemented. We argue that the extent to which both corruption and anti-corruption mandates factor into IDO allocation depends on the composition of the donors. Using existing data on corruption alongside newly collected data on anti-corruption mandates, we demonstrate that organizations composed of corrupt donors are just as likely to adopt, but less likely to enforce, anti-corruption mandates. Organizations composed of less corrupt donors, by contrast, tend to divert aid away from corrupt states, with or without formal anti-corruption rules in place. The findings have implications for the debate over whether international efforts to institutionalize “good governance” standards are sincere or cheap talk, whether multilateral strategies are in fact less politicized than bilateral aid allocation strategies, and whether international organizations should be inclusive, open to membership by many or even all states, including those with dubious track records.


Corruption Good governance Foreign aid International development organizations Anti-corruption mandates 



We thank Sarah Bermeo, Axel Dreher, Andreas Fuchs, Susanne Mueller, Jon Pevehouse, Tal Sadeh, Mike Tierney, and the participants at the PEIO conference (2017), the speaker series at the University of Konstanz (2017) and the University of Wisconsin at Madison (2018), the International Studies Association annual conference (2017) and the International Political Economy Society conference (2017) for helpful comments. Hafner-Burton gratefully acknowledges support from the MacArthur Foundation and the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the University of California, San Diego. Schneider gratefully acknowledges financial support from the UCSD Academic Senate (#RP85G-SCHNEIDER) and the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Union. We thank Rachel Schoner for her research assistance.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of MississippiOxfordUSA
  2. 2.School of Global Policy and Strategy and Department of Political ScienceUniversity of CaliforniaSan DiegoUSA
  3. 3.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of CaliforniaSan DiegoUSA

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