This has to be one of the dumber articles I’ve seen in the past few days.

So it uses a benchmark of corruption convictions per 100,000 people. If you don’t think about it, it sounds reasonable, right?

But where would you have the highest rate of corruption convictions? There are lots of other factors to consider, such as:

  • The number and competence of prosecutors available and investigation priorities
  • The competency and availability of law enforcement staff
  • The amount of “outrage” on the part of the public over corruption
  • The willingness of witnesses to testify
  • The clarity and enforceability of the ethics laws for that particular state
  • The number of politicians who are stupid enough to get caught.

Very corrupt places (such as NJ, IL, LA) have people in power doing what they can to discourage corruption probes and investigations. By passing ambiguous laws, encouraging actions like dual office holding, not specifying what conflicts of interest are problematic, etc. Having an idiot for an attorney general is also helpful.

Look at what Chris Christie faced here in NJ…corruption nearly every place he looked, but with limited resources, a complacent public, and resistance by the political machinery, how simple was it for him to establish cases strong enough to get a conviction?

Couldn’t it also be argued that some of the convictions in very corrupt states are intended to get rivals out of the way of some of the more ruthless politicians? So the rest of the corrupt go on with business as usual, there is enough fodder for the press, and the prosecutors come across as heroes? This leads to a low conviction rate, but high levels of corruption persist.

Wouldn’t the levels of convictions be higher where witnesses have less fear of reprisal (such as areas with lower population density and less organized crime activity)? And where corruption is not entirely systemic, and therefore more noticeable? You think?

Then what would be a better benchmark? Maybe proportion of one party rule? Maybe the length of time for building permits? Number of exceptions and loopholes in the tax code? Cost per mile of road construction? Surely there would be others that would be more effective than the statistic offered here.

But that would involve a journalist doing actual work over and above a quick Lexis/Nexis search and three phone calls.