Today, the Center for Public Integrity released a study comparing the corruption and the corruption risk for each of the 50 states. The project is the culmination of an eighteen months of research by reporters and 1.5 million dollars of funding.
The results of the study are pretty distressing. None of the states receives an “A” rating, and many receive and F or some variant of a D. The failing states were Wyoming, Virginia, Maine, both Dakotas, Georgia, Michigan, and South Carolina (good thing a very small percentage of the total U.S. population lives in these states).
Surprisingly, states that are supposedly corrupt like Illinois and New Jersey scored well and the latter scored in the top five. The study argues that the state has cleaned up its act. The defense for these counterintuitive rankings come from the studies exhaustive methodology and the flaws in previous studies.
Previous studies looked at investigations and prosecutions related to corruption and came to the conclusion that New York City and Chicago were highly corrupt, but the flaw in these studies is that there is no control. Maybe the states with low prosecutions just don't have the transparency or ethics committees to pursue the proper investigations. So, the states with no prosecutions might be the states in which public officials are getting away with the most.
By contrast, the study released from the CPI used 330 data points from state governments followed up by individual researchers. The especially compelling part of the study was the way in which laws against corruption could be matched against indicators of corruption, a crude measure of how well or badly laws were being enforced:
“Indicators assess what laws, if any, are on the books (“in law” indicator) and whether the laws are effective in practice (“in practice” indicators). In many states, the disconnect between scores on a state’s law and scores in practice suggest a serious “enforcement gap.””
Here are three of the biggest results from the study.
1. Many states have poor transparency laws, meaning average citizens can't get access to the goings-on in their governments. This is especially bad in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney's former state: “In Massachusetts, the barriers to access are especially daunting. Not only are the legislature, governor, and courts exempt from public records law, but legislative votes are not even recorded in committee.”
2. Enforcement is almost non-existent. State based ethics agencies have little money and even less personnel. The study cites numerous examples, but to give just one, Deleware's ethics commission has two employees monitoring the other 48,000 government workers.
3. Self-aggrandizement is easy. In many states, because of the overwhelming number of cases that need to be investigated, state officials are in charge of deciding whether they have a conflict. Naturally, they decide many cases in their own favor.
Photo Credit: Marxchivist