Opinion

July 13, 2014

Corruption study provides food for thought

Being first isn’t always best.

Georgia ranks 31st in the nation in a recent study of state corruption.

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. Oregon had 0.128, while Mississippi had 0.855.

At first blush for Georgia, that sounds ... OK.

The state isn’t among the least corrupt in the nation, but it isn’t among the worst.

But the study really only counts convictions for corruption and only at the federal level. Who knows how much corruption is out there that never gets caught, much less punished. In fact, it’s easy to speculate that truly corrupt places might be the ones with the fewest convictions, since everyone takes it for granted and few may be motivated to do much about it.

That isn’t to say Oregon is the most corrupt state in the nation nor that Mississippi is the least corrupt. But it is to say that this study should be taken in context with other reports and studies. Lawmakers need to consider all of the evidence and see what the patterns are. Even if it turns out Georgia is among the least corrupt states, there will almost certainly be room for improvement.

This study may not be the definitive word on state corruption, but it could help further the discussion on what to do about it.

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