05.11.10

The Most Corrupt States

As money pours into the Gulf, The Daily Beast crunches the numbers, from public embezzlement to private sector fraud, for all 50 states to rank which play dirty—and which have cleaned up their act.

Corruption used to be pretty simple—or at least harder to track. One man ran one political machine in each city, which served as the nexus of business, politics and money. But computers and technology have democratized the possibilities for graft, as well as the tools to catch the bad guys.

Click Below to View Our Gallery of Most Corrupt States

“Contention over the issue is a healthy thing,” says Michael Johnston, a professor of political science at Colgate University, “because as long as people are inclined to stand up and say, ‘Wait up you can’t do that,’ then you’ve got a debate going over the sources and limits and uses of power.”

That debate will surely pick up around the Gulf, as billions begin to flow down to cover what could become one of the biggest cleanups in world history. With that in mind, The Daily Beast examined a wide range of available data to rank the level of corruption in all 50 states. Each of the following data sets was weighted equally:

Public corruption, 1998—2008: Convictions of elected and other public officials investigated by federal agents over an 11-year period, from the Department of Justice.

Racketeering and Extortion, 1998—2008: Code for organized crime convictions, also investigated by federal agents over an 11-year period, from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Forgery and Counterfeiting, 1999—2008: Arrest numbers for producing or distributing fake money and goods over a 10-year period, from the FBI.

Fraud, 1999—2008: Arrests for false statements or documents produced for personal gain over a 10-year period, from the FBI.

Embezzlement, 1999—2008: Arrests for surreptitious theft of money over a 10-year period, from the FBI.

By using a decade’s worth of federal data, we were able to minimize changes in local law enforcement efficacy, though some flaws remain: local cases go undocumented, and the FBI data is self-reported by local law enforcement. When combined, however, the data provides a fairly deep look into which jurisdictions are uncovering the most corruption. We leveled the playing field by calculating the numbers on a per-100,000 people basis.

Some states show particular prowess in one area of corruption or another. New York leads with racketeering and extortion, Delaware is tops in embezzlement, while the nation’s capital leads the pack in public corruption. But only one state is consistent across the board. Click here for the results.

Clark Merrefield reported and wrote this article, with assistance from Lauren Streib.