Sunday, December 21, 2008

Which state is more crooked?

We decided to re-visit the political corruption issue that was opened last week. Today's discussion is from a different perspective and uses different sources, so you may see some discrepancies in the statistics. This is excerpted from an article by Jacob Weisberg for Slate Magazine

With the unmasking of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (see illustration) as a kleptocrat of Paraguayan proportion, Illinois now has a real chance—its first in more than a generation—to defeat Louisiana in the NCAA finals of American political corruption.

Illinois boasts some impressive stats. According to data collected by Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois, more than 1,000 public officials and business people from Illinois have been convicted in federal corruption cases since 1971. Of those, an astonishing 30 were Chicago aldermen; that's around 20 percent of those elected to the City Council during that period.

If Blagojevich ultimately goes to prison, he will become the fourth out of the last eight governors to wear stripes, joining predecessors George Ryan (racketeering, conspiracy, obstruction), Dan Walker (bank fraud), and Otto Kerner (straight-up bribery). If he gets assigned to the U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., Blagojevich could become the first governor to share a cell with a predecessor he defeated at the polls.

But don't count Louisiana out. According to statistics compiled by the Corporate Crime Reporter, it was No. 1 for the period between 1997 and 2006, with 326 federal corruption convictions. That's a rate of 7.67 per 100,000 residents. Illinois had 524convictions in the same period, but with a larger population, its rate was only 4.68, which puts it an embarrassing sixth.

And Louisiana can boast some impressive streaks. In 2001 Jim Brown became the third consecutive insurance commissioner to be convicted. New Orleans Rep. William Jefferson, who was just defeated for re-election, liked cold, hard cash so much he kept the bundles of bills supplied by a FBI sting operation in his freezer. His brother, sister, and niece recently joined him under indictment.

Wayne Parent, a professor of political science at Louisiana State University, explains that with the discovery of oil and gas around 1912, politicians in the dirt-poor state suddenly controlled a gold mine in tax revenues. "They could spend this money virtually unsupervised," he says, "as long as they threw enough crumbs to the masses to satisfy them—direct, tangible goods like free textbooks and paved roads." This was the formula of populist governors Huey Long, his brother Earl Long, and Edwin Edwards. Louisiana politicians have always liked big bribes for big projects better than crooked little schemes. Edwards, for instance, is serving time for collecting a $400,000 gratuity in exchange for a casino license.

Louisiana's culture of corruption, by contrast, is flamboyant and shameless. Earl Long once said that Louisiana voters "don't want good government, they want good entertainment." He spent part of his last term in a mental hospital, where his wife had him committed after he took up with stripper Blaze Starr. When Sen. Allen Ellender died in office in 1972, Gov. Edwards didn't try to auction of his seat. He appointed his wife, Elaine, possibly to get her out of town.

When Edwards ran for governor in 1983, he said of the incumbent, "If we don't get Dave Treen out of office, there won't be anything left to steal." (He also memorably said Treen was so slow it took him an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes.) Raised among figures like these, Louisianans tend to accept corruption as inevitable, to be somewhat proud of it, and to forgive it easily.

It's going to be a close contest again this year, but I'm betting on the Fighting Illini to claim the national championship.


jbv's Competitive Edge 


Blogger What is going on, blog said...

It is hard to say which state is more crooked in comparison. Some of these shenanigans continue on without being noticed and there are different shenanigans that continue without notice also.

7:16 PM  

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