Elections and Discretionary Accruals: Evidence from 2004
Executive Summary — How does the political process affect accounting? During the 2004 U.S. congressional elections, outsourcing of American jobs was a major campaign issue. Because outsourcing is assumed to be net profitable, the use of income-decreasing accruals would enable donor firms to deflect public scrutiny of both the firm and the political candidate over outsourcing. HBS professor Karthik Ramanna and MIT Sloan School professor Sugata Roychowdhury examine the accrual choices made by outsourcing firms with links to U.S. congressional candidates during the 2004 elections, and specifically test for income-decreasing discretionary accruals. Evidence is consistent with firms using earnings management to reduce both direct political costs and the costs associated with causing embarrassment to affiliated political candidates. Key concepts include:
- Politically connected firms with more extensive outsourcing activities had more income-decreasing discretionary accruals in the two calendar quarters immediately preceding the 2004 congressional elections.
- The use of accounting discretion to manage political costs is potentially more evolved than currently discussed in academic literature.
We examine the accrual choices of outsourcing firms with links to US congressional candidates during the 2004 elections, when corporate outsourcing was a major campaign issue. We find that politically-connected firms with more extensive outsourcing activities have more income-decreasing discretionary accruals. Further, relative to adjacent periods, the evidence is concentrated in the two calendar quarters immediately preceding the 2004 election, consistent with heightened incentives for firms to manage earnings during the election season. The incentives can be attributed to donor firms' concerns about the potentially negative consequences of scrutiny over outsourcing for themselves and for their affiliated candidates. 39 pages. (Full text of the paper is also available on SSRN.)