- Nov 22, 2003
- Reaction score
This is non-news, but to the question, "How bad is it really?" An answer:
llinois really is more corrupt
March 11, 2007
BY JAMES L. MERRINER
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota thinks it can teach Illinois something about political corruption. No, really, Minnesota, by reputation the home of squeaky-clean government.
You might remember that in 1998 Minnesota elected Gov. Jesse Ventura, the Reform Party candidate and a former pro wrestler. Witty Minnesotans soon sported bumper stickers -- "My governor can beat up your governor."
Some Illinoisans had enough pride to respond. "Our governor is a bigger crook than your governor," said a National Taxpayers Union of Illinois bumper sticker in 2000.
That's the spirit. We're No. 1!
The 'unholy trinity'
Anyway, the Center for Ethical Business Cultures recently sponsored a conference, "Exploring Public Corruption -- Its Causes, Consequences and Remedies," at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis.
One of the panelists, Joseph Friedberg, a criminal defense lawyer, wondered why they even bothered.
"The bribes that are talked about [here] would be considered insults in Chicago rather than bribes," he said. "If I specialized in defending cases of public corruption, I would starve to death."
Illinois, where few lawyers specializing in such cases starve, once staged a similar forum. Professors, attorneys and reformers discussed how crooked the government is and how we might cleanse it. The University of Illinois at Springfield sponsored "Politics and Ethics in Illinois -- Past, Present and Future" in April 2003. Have you noticed our politics getting any cleaner since then?
And does it make sense to talk about relative crookedness of states, how Illinois is slimier than Minnesota?
Oddly enough, the governmental honesty of different states can be measured and compared -- sort of.
Larry J. Sabato, a professor at the University of Virginia, is a kind of all-purpose political commentator. He told me, "The unholy trinity of politically corrupt states are New Jersey, Illinois and Louisiana."
I asked former Gov. Jim Thompson what he thought about Sabato's Top Three. "Illinois can't hold a candle to New Jersey and Louisiana," he said indignantly. "We're poor country cousins compared to those states."
I was disappointed that "Big Jim" did not stick up for his own state. We're No. 1!
Thompson's law firm defended former Gov. George Ryan, convicted last April on corruption charges.
We're corruption overachievers
"Look," Thompson said, "we've had instances of corruption in Illinois for my lifetime and more. . . . You could just name them. We've had governors indicted for selling pardons, or at least accused of selling pardons. Is Illinois more corrupt than Minnesota or Wisconsin? Probably."
As it turns out, there is evidence that Illinois really is more corrupt than Minnesota or Wisconsin.
In response to the Watergate scandal, the U.S. Justice Department created a public integrity section in 1976. This unit reports to Congress every year on the number of indictments and convictions of public officials -- federal, state and local -- on corruption charges in each federal district court.
The tally includes only federal cases, not those brought by state and local prosecutors. But then, the feds bring an estimated 80 percent of all such cases.
The tally also does not indicate how much emphasis different U.S. attorneys place on chasing corruption cases. Maybe the federal prosecutors in Chicago are exceptionally zealous.
That said, you can add up the convictions for each state, compare the total to the state's population, and get a conviction rate per 100,000 people.
A group called the Corporate Crime Reporter developed such data for 1993-2002. I have updated the numbers for 1996-2005, using 2005 population estimates, the most recent figures available.
By this measure, North Dakota (North Dakota?) is the most corrupt state with a rate of .0848, reflecting a total of just 54 convictions but a population of only 637,000. Illinois ranks ninth in the nation with a rate of .0446 (with 569 convictions and 12.8 million people).
Louisiana is the second most corrupt; New Jersey the eleventh. Minnesota is the fifth least corrupt; Wisconsin the seventeenth.
So we're not No. 1, but hardly "country cousins" either....