Every four years, we go to the ballot boxes and elect leaders who promise a lot and hope they will deliver on their promises. They smear the previous leadership with mud and claim how they will be different. A year or two down the line, the sheep’s skin starts to fall off, and we see them for the wolves that they are through the corruption allegations all over the news.
And the worst bit is that the accused, even with mountains of evidence, walk away with a slap on the wrist. It’s only in rare cases that a politician gets sent to jail. And in these situations, we know they must have done something to piss off someone at the top. They were not sent to jail because it was ‘the just thing to do’ but as punishment for not getting in line.
But even with all the corruption that is going on in America, we have to count our blessings. Why? Well, for one, it’s nothing like what is going on in other parts of the world. Other governments are running their economies into the ground with no second thoughts or guilt.
So does this mean that we should be complacent and accept what we have because we are having it relatively good? Of course not. Americans need to act and put an end to corruption in the government. And the first step of doing this is to understand which states are the most corrupt.
Below is a top ten list to get you started.
Note that these rankings are not based on the government alone, but also residents in the states.
1. District of Columbia
According to a report by Statista, D.C was found to be the most corrupt over 42 years. In 10,000 inhabitants, the report recorded 16.79 cases. Several factors contribute to this. Mostly because it has a relatively low population and second because it is the seat of the national government and the capital of the Department of Justice. As such, all federal agencies in the U.S. are here and many government employees live in this state as well.
Now, you are probably curious – how does corruption take place in D.C? Is it through briefcases full of cash exchanging hands behind closed doors or congress votes are being sold to the highest bidder?
Well, briefcases of cash might have been what used to happen decades ago, but not it’s only seen in movies. Today, it’s mostly legal via intermediaries. They do this to avoid the digital trail. So instead of taking the money directly, their spouses and children are the main beneficiaries of these dealings. And believe it or not, this is legal.
So how did it ever get to such levels of corruption? Where did the state go wrong? Well, a lot has contributed to getting D.C where it is. However, in the recent past, it was the fact that they began electing their mayors. This means that they do not have time to come up with time-tested politicians to take up the role as other cities have. D.C is still learning in this regard, and so campaigns open up a world of opportunity.
The sad fact is that in D.C public office is seen as a major lifestyle upgrade and the campaign contributors and taxpayers are the neighborhood ATMs whose pockets run deep.
If you ever find yourself on a campaign list, you will understand this all too well because of the numerous emails you’ll get from politicians and other big names you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting face to face.
From a whopping 16.79, the numbers drop to about 2.62. Such a huge gap, right? But don’t let those figures fool you. Things are still bad here. And actually, Louisiana has been making the top 15 most corrupt states for many years. So what’s the problem here?
Besides the corruption, it’s the fact that residents have accepted it as the norm. They are no longer surprised when they make the corrupt list. But it is this acceptance that has helped corruption spread and eat away at their ethics like cancer?
Louisiana people joke too much about the crooked ways of their politicians. How else would you explain Governor Edwin Edwards having the guts to run for a seat with the slogan ‘Vote for the crook, not the Klansman?’
If that’s not complacency, then what is? And though it might have been intended as a joke, it’s not when you give it some thought – consider the true cost of the corruption.
Corruption is the cause of low pay, weak education, hunger, and poverty. But these areas are just the tip of the iceberg. Because of corruption, the funds never get to those who need them because those who don’t need it withhold and mishandle the money. You might argue, ‘I still have regular meals, and I’m not exactly poor.’ But you still are affected when investors stay away because of the bad reputation. So you might not be badly hit, but things could be so much better.
But something can be done about this. For instance, public figures could involve the public more; they should attend the community meetings to get an idea of what the people need and care for. Also, residents should stop joking too much about this and air out their discontent on the same.
You already know that corruption comes with economic repercussions, right? But you might not know how big these repercussions are.
According to reports by the University of Illinois, public convictions on the grounds of corruption cost the state about $550 million every year between 2000 and 2017. This adds up to more than 9.9 billion in the 17 years.
In Illinois, there are 8% more federal corruption convictions than in other states in the same 17 year period. With such huge expenses on convictions, it means that other sectors are suffering.
Close to 285,000 residents of Illinois are in the business of finding a job. Moreover, the overall state of the economy will continue to lag the nation behind.
Don’t believe these statistics? Here are some of the convictions to help trigger your memory or get you on board.
- Willie Cochran, a former Chicago Ald was sentenced to a year in jail for wire fraud
- The offices of Ald Carrie Austin were raided during a corruption investigation
- Burke Ald of the 14th ward was indicted for attempted extortion, racketeering and using the interstate commerce to carry out unlawful acts
Now, though taking bribes and other criminal offenses are in the limelight, they are only a fraction of what’s really going on. There’s a big monster called legal corruption. This is where legal establishments take control of ward matters, which allows the officials to pass laws that favor their re-election and give them unchecked power.
According to Statista, Tennessee’s corruption is at 1.53 for the report that checked corruption between 1976 and 2018. Tennessee has a lot of data on convictions for racketeering, forgery, extortion, public corruption, embezzlement, and counterfeiting.
According to research conducted by Indiana University in conjunction with Hong Kong University, Tennessee like most states spend a lot of its money on highways, construction, and police protection programs.
On face value, these are noble courses that seem to add value and protect citizens. But on the flip side, they provide a good opportunity for corrupt officials to use public money to benefit themselves. As a result, the state ends up spending less on education, health, and welfare of its people because these provide less opportunity to steal.
These studies were confirmed by other research which revealed that Tennessee spent very little on education in comparison to other states. In fact, the state enacted deep cuts to higher education funding.
According to a study by the University of Michigan and the Federal Reserve Bank, Tennessee offers business development some incentives as another method of misappropriating funds. These huge incentives are given to large corporations in the name of economic development, which never materialize mainly because they end up killing the existing economies.
Also, the subsidies are given to firms that are politically connected, which cements the fact that there is no economic development plan behind the subsidies.
5. New York
Yes, the Big Apple also has a lot of skeletons in its closet. Being one of the largest tourist destinations in the U.S, and the money that consequently circulates, it’s only logical that it would feature in such a list. The home to the Empire State Building, Central Park and the Broadway theatre was also the home of many corruption cases in 2018. Below is a glimpse of some of the cases and what they were about:
Joseph Percoco was a close friend of Governor Andrew Cuomo for twenty years. He served as his aide and his campaign manager as well. He was convicted for accepting more than $320,000 from CPV Energy and COR Development.
These were companies that did business with the state, and that depended on Percoco for favors. A lot of the money was paid to Percoco’s wife through a job that frankly needed minimal effort and would have cost a fraction of the amount paid.
Percoco was convicted of bribery and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The prosecutors wanted him behind bars for more than five years while his attorneys were fighting to get two years.
Alain Kaloyeros was one of the founding presidents of the New York Polytechnic Institute. He was one of the people trusted by Cuomo to run many of the top economic developments like the Buffalo Billion program.
It was discovered that Kaloyeros had rigged the contract bids which funded jobs valued at $850 million. The contracts went to COR Development and LPCiminelli. The executives of these companies were also convicted.
Sheldon Silver was a democrat in Manhattan and was, therefore, one of the most powerful men in New York at the time. He was the state Assembly speaker until he was indicted in 2015.
He was convicted of having accepted $4 million offered under the pretense of legal payments from law firms that specialized in asbestos and real estate.
After the first case hearing, he was sentenced to 12 years behind bars along with a $1.75 million fine and $5.2 million in the form of forfeiture. All this was before the conviction was overturned.
Pennsylvania has a stronghold on the sixth place in terms of federal corruption charges. And with a little research, you’ll realize that the state has an F when it comes to anti-corruption laws. This is the only explanation, especially when you read that a mayor was charged with 47 cases of corruption.
How did this happen, you wonder? Well, Edwin Pawlowski, the long-serving mayor at the time was convicted of shaking down vendors to get campaign funds. Investigators named this pay-to-play. During the trial, he was found guilty of forcing vendors in the city to fund his plans to run for the 2016 term.
His attorneys argued that he was a dedicated public servant whose enemies were out there to destroy him politically. But there was overwhelming evidence, including FBI phone taps and recordings made by his aides who had cameras and microphones to record conversations for the FBI.
Though not all of the charges held up, and those that did carry no less than five-year sentences. Some even went up to twenty years in prison.
Virginia lawmakers are known to introduce countless bills every year. They even spend countless hours debating the fine points of how they will punish the students who can’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance, whether motorists should be punished for not wearing helmets and who should be dealt a death penalty. However, when it is time for them to make and enforce rules that govern them, they shrink back.
Virginia is one of the states that don’t have an ethics commission. It is also one of the states that don’t have a campaign finance limit, and one of the two states where the legislators handpick the judges that they will practice law before.
Now, Virginia has more than 8.1 million residents. In 2018 it was ranked 12th in population. But despite these numbers, the lawmakers hold the shortest meetings in the U.S. With such little time, lobbyists are now trusted advisors and writers of the law.
With ethics missing, it’s not a shock that Virginia is part of the most corrupt states. Public office holders are convicted of extortion and bribery every other day. And though some are sentenced, many walk scot-free, which can be quite infuriating, especially when you think of the hellfire they rain on regular citizens for minor (in comparison to their misgivings) offenses.
According to Statista, Ohio has an index of 1.33. For the most part, Ohio’s shortcomings have been covered by other states for a long time. But this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a case to answer.
Though the story of corruption in Ohio is the same as that in other states (corrupt public officials) economic activities are choked and die gradually.
Did you know that Ohio is one of the states where judges (supreme court) are elected through a popular vote to serve in office for a term of six years? When voting, the ballots don’t clearly state the party of the candidate. It only has the name. In fact, voters who have not done their research pick judges at random or leave it blank.
Now, there are some advantages and disadvantages of electing rather than appointing judges. We tend to believe that this process contributes to corruption. Think about it. If their position in office is dependent on their popularity, the decisions judges make, especially as the elections draw nearer are based on opinion instead of justice. It’s also not comforting to think that those who donate to the campaigns can sway the ruling of judges.
Some of the public office holders that have been convicted in the past include;
- Amer Ahmad – the former deputy treasurer
- Clayton Luckie – a Dayton democrat
- Chris Widener – a Central State University advocate at the time and a Springfield Republican
9. New Jersey
New Jersey is known for a bunch of things, including beautiful beaches, a diverse culture, busy roads, and great food. But on the flip side, it is also infamous for corruption.
According to Statista, it has a 1.28 corruption index calculated between 1976 and 2018. Corruption convictions have been wide apart in recent times, probably because politicians have gotten wiser on how to handle such deals. Experts call this soft corruption or legal corruption. This is where public officers influence laws and favor without being unethical. Simply put, the politicians know how to make money change hands without breaking the law.
But soft corruption did not just start. For instance, in 1989, legislators who later occupied the seats called twenty top-grossing lobbyists under the guise of soliciting for ideas on their upcoming election campaign. However, the real purpose of the meeting was to shake down these lobbyists to get contributions from their clients. Anyone who refused to comply would not get legislation in favor of their clients.
And in 2011, a respected and capable executive director of the state of the commission whose primary task is to investigate violations relating to conflicts of interest was forced to resign so that the office of the governor could have someone that would favor their interests.
If you dug deeper into this, you’d be shocked to discover that soft corruption is more rampant than you think. And it’s even worse than exchanging hard cash because it robs the state of good leadership in addition to running the economy into the ground.
Coming in last is Georgia with 1.08. But even then, corruption has been at the heart of Georgia for the longest time. In 2018, there was a resurgence of information on possible high-level corruption cases involving the former and current public officials. This is a trend that has been going on for a long time. Non-governmental organizations and media identify some corruption cases and either the public is left in the dark with the proceedings and details of the case or no investigations are done at all. This trend has led to a reduction in trust in investigative authorities and law enforcement.
And the thing about being a tainted public figure is that you can never perform your duties as required. Something or someone will always pop up to make you bend the rules as they hold your hidden skeletons over your head. So what might have started as a one-time thing rolls into a giant ball of corruption cases until you are apprehended or let go by a friend in a high place.
Though every state in the U.S has some level of corruption, these are the ten that stand out the most. And the worst thing is that Americans in different states have grown numb to the news of corruption and money lost. This is mainly because the news run and politicians make a big fuss about it, but once a blow has served its purpose, they all work together to sweep it under the carpet until when they need it next. Rarely is anything done to these corrupt officials.
The first step to fighting corruption is for citizens to stop being complacent with it. You should realize that the effects of money lost are bigger than the millions or billions stated. The money could have gone into providing better health care or improving the education system. Also, when going into an election, it’s important to do your research on the individuals you will be voting for. Always ensure they are competent enough for the job and not just popular.