How Corrupt Are We Exactly?

by wjw on December 17, 2008

The indictment of Gov. Blagojevich has folks wondering if Illinois indeed is as corrupt as its mythographers would have us believe.

So the New York Times commissioned a study on which states have the most corruption, and why. And despite the best efforts of Philip Danforth Armour, Carter Harrison, the Richards Daley, Cyrus McCormick, George Pullman, and Al Capone, the best Illinois can manage is Number Seven.

The study used several methodologies. They first looked at the raw numbers of officials convicted. Well in the lead is Florida, followed by New York and Texas. (Illinois is seventh.) But all these states have large populations, so one would expect there to be more officials indicted than in states with few inhabitants.

So the second method was to check convictions per capita. In this poll, the lead is held by Washington DC— which you would expect, since being the capital it’s got more government employees than elsewhere. DC is followed by the Virgin Islands and Guam— also with large percentages of government employees, I suspect. The first real state to turn up is North Dakota, followed by Alaska and Louisiana. (Illinois is a miserable #22. Where are you when we need you, Bugsy Moran?)

However, some of these areas have such small populations that a few indictments can skew results. North Dakota tops the list because they recently had a low-level corruption scandal that caught a number of officials— normally, they’d be a lot farther down. Ted Stevens’ conviction alone probably kicked nearly-empty Alaska high up the list.

Another problem is that officials have to actually get convicted before they get counted. If they steal and get away with it, they’re statistically nonexistent.

The third method was to poll political reporters, who presumably watch the wheeling and dealing up close. In this Rhode Island comes in at #1— no big surprise, here— followed by Louisiana— no surprise, either. Third is my very own New Mexico, which surprises me the least. (Have we noticed that today Bill Richardson announced a huge solar development from a big campaign contributor?)

On this one, Illinois comes in tenth, tied with Ohio.

Illinois just needs to work harder.

halojones-fan December 17, 2008 at 5:46 pm

You could also look at “number of actions”; overall, per-capita, and per-politician. Or maybe “importance of politician involved”–there’s a difference between a parking supervisor and the head of the highway department.

Ken Houghton December 19, 2008 at 11:51 pm

Illinois politicians getting caught are the nouveau riche of the genre.

Most of what they do wouldn’t even have merited a line in the NYPost if they were Koch or Guiliani administration officials. Especially Koch, as immortalized by Tom Paxton.

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