This article studies the relationship between cartels of politicians and systemic political corruption in a democratic setting. Some electoral systems, including open-list systems of proportional representation, encourage intraparty competition for office. The authors analyze the relationship between intraparty conflict in postwar Italy's dominant political party, the Christian Democrats, and charges of malfeasance against Christian Democratic members of the Chamber of Deputies in the years between the first postwar parliamentary elections of 1948 and the end of the XI legislature in 1994, when the electoral system was substantially modified. Suspected malfeasance is operationalized as requests by the judiciary to lift parliamentary immunity in order to proceed with an investigation of a member of the Chamber of Deputies.
Results show a significant statistical relationship between intraparty conflict and alleged corruption on the part of dc deputies starting in the early 1970s. These results are interpreted to mean that the dramatic levels of political corruption observed in Italy in recent decades were in part an outgrowth of the search for campaign funds by incumbent dc members of parliament in competition with other candidates from the same party. Electoral competition with other parties did not significantly affect the extent of charges of malfeasance against dc deputies. Using maps, the authors also provide preliminary evidence that Italian corruption did not spread from south to north in a process of cultural contagion, as is commonly believed. Instead, they find, the determinants of corruption appear to be endogenous to institutions of the postwar political system.