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July 13, 2014

Georgia ranks in middle in new corruption study

Georgia doesn’t rank among the most corrupt states in the nation, according to a recent study. But it doesn’t rank among the least corrupt either.

Georgia ranks as the 31st least corrupt state in America, according to a study in the May/June issue of Public Administration Review.

Oregon headed the list as the least corrupt state, followed by Washington, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Utah, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Mississippi was at the bottom of the list as the most corrupt state. Louisiana, Tennessee, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Alaska, South Dakota, Kentucky and Florida also ranked among the bottom 10 states.

Researchers John L. Mikesell of Indiana University and Cheol Liu of City University of Hong Kong developed the list by dividing the number of federal convictions of public officials in each state between 1976 and 2008 by the number of public employees.

Georgia had 0.54 federal convictions for each 10,000 public employees in that period. By comparison, Oregon had 0.128 and Mississippi had 0.855.

Among states that border Georgia, Tennessee had 0.836, Alabama had 0.711, Florida had 0.645, South Carolina had 0.567 and North Carolina had 0.325

But lawmakers and some analysts said they aren’t sure how much those numbers tell us.

“I haven’t been able to access the full study, but I’m not sure this is the best methodology,” said Matthew Hipps, assistant professor of political science at Dalton State College.

“I’m not sure that the number of convictions really tells us how much corruption there is in an area,” he added. “It’s a measure, but it’s not a very nuanced measure.”

State Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, agrees.

“This tells us who got caught and convicted. It doesn’t tell us who is out there doing things we haven’t caught yet,” he said. “It’s entirely possible that having a larger number of prosecutions and convictions may be a good thing because it shows that going after corruption and rooting it out is something that prosecutors and law enforcement and others take seriously. I’m not sure I’d feel really great to be at the top of this list. I’m not sure that I’d feel bad to be at the very bottom.”

Bethel said he would like to believe that Georgia’s people and elected officials have created an atmosphere where public officials are less corrupt than the average.

“But reason tells me that there’s probably going to be a uniform average everywhere without the threat of prosecution and sanctions,” he said.

Bethel said he supports legislation that would allow the attorney general to impanel a state grand jury.

“Most of the places that use the statewide grand jury use them for the purpose of addressing public corruption,” he said. “With all due respect to the prosecutors we have throughout the state, it can be difficult just from a resources standpoint, much less the local relationships, for a (district) attorney to address a major issue of public corruption.”

Does this latest study provide any help for lawmakers in drafting measures to combat corruption?

“Without being able to dig down into the details, I don’t know that it does,” said state Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta. “We really need to know the type of corruption we face before we can write any laws to try to reduce it. Is it elected officials or public employees? Is it at the state level or the local level? The answers to those questions could make a difference in how we respond.”

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