counts of corruption, 1

Back when the Blagojevich scandal broke in the news, there was a lot of discussion of which state is the most corrupt, no doubt prompted in part by the claim that

“If it [Illinois] isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States it’s certainly one hell of a competitor,” Robert Grant, head of the FBI’s Chicago office, said Tuesday.

USA Today looked into the comparison and came up with a surprising result (click through for a map):

On a per-capita basis, however, Illinois ranks 18th for the number of public corruption convictions the federal government has won from 1998 through 2007, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Department of Justice statistics.

Louisiana, Alaska and North Dakota all fared worse than the Land of Lincoln in that analysis.

Meanwhile, an earlier analysis by the Corporate Crime Reporter ranked Illinois sixth in federal corruption convictions on a per capita basis from 1997 to 2006, behind Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, and Ohio. (For the visually inclined, The Monkey Cage and its readers have you covered with a list, graph, and map.) If you’re wondering what happened to Alaska and North Dakota, Corporate Crime Reporter did not analyze the states with fewer than 2 million residents; only 35 states are included in the rankings.

Neither ranking includes state-level convictions. And of course they also leave out all those corrupt officials who were never convicted at all. As Russell Mokhiber, editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter, put it

Also, public officials in any given state can be corrupt to the core, and if a federal prosecutor doesn’t have the resources or the sheer political will to bring the case and win a conviction, the public corruption will not be reflected in the Justice Department’s data set.

(So there may be hope for Illinois yet!)

The flip side of this is that a relatively high conviction rate may be partly attributable to better detection, as the USA Today notes:

Don Morrison, executive director of the non-partisan North Dakota Center for the Public Good, said it may be that North Dakotans are better at rooting out corruption when it occurs.

“Being a sparsely populated state, people know each other,” he said. “We know our elected officials and so certainly to do what the governor of Illinois did is much more difficult here.”

Still, you have to have corruption first in order for it to be detected, and North Dakota’s prevention abilities don’t appear to be very strong:

Morrison said the state has encouraged bad government practices in some cases by weakening disclosure laws. North Dakota does not require legislative or statewide candidates to disclose their campaign expenses.

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The uncertainty surrounding the detection and reporting of corruption is one of the reasons John Noonan does not provide comparative measures of corruption for the places and periods he discusses in Bribes. (Working across history, Noonan also lacks good data sets.) Since his discussion of quantification is quite lengthy, I’ve put it in the next post.

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