Don't think public corruption is the sole province of down-at-the-heels nations such as Somalia, the poorest performer in Transparency International's index of perceived corruption in 176 countries.
The United States doesn't land in the top 10 cleanest countries. It barely lands in the top 20. Among the 18 countries perceived as less corrupt are Japan, Barbados, Iceland and Singapore.
There is corruption in America; the question is where.
A recent report provides an answer. An academic at the University of Hong Kong and another at Indiana University set out to rank the states by level of corruption, combing arrest and conviction records for public officials. (Click here or on the image above to see them.)
Cheol Liu and John L. Mikesell also reported that states with greater public spending have more corruption -- particularly when the spending is in areas ripe for bribery, like construction, police and highway projects.
"People think corruption doesn't happen here," said Chicago lawyer Sergio Acosta, who used to work in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois. He's a member of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Ethics Reforms Task Force, which aims to codify appropriate behavior for city employees. "That's the real value of this report."
New Jersey, a state well known for corruption at the highest levels (the late 1970s Abscam scandal, for instance, sent a sitting U.S. senator to jail, along with a member of the House, members of the Legislature and a few mayors), does not crack the top 10 most corrupt states.
New York doesn't either, even though corruption in its largest city was so widespread that the 1970 Knapp Commission found that seemingly every cop patroled his beat with his palm out and grasping. (The scandal became the 1973 movie "Serpico.")
Things change. They may get better.
But in some states, public officials who extend their hands aren't looking to shake; they're looking for a fast Jackson.
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- Transparency International