As state lawmakers attempt to balance wasteful budgets, perhaps the first issue they should tackle is corruption in their own ranks. A pioneering study shows that public officials’ corruption costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars a year. It also shows that law enforcement and prisons get a major boost in more corrupt states.

“The study demonstrates that corruption goes hand-in-hand with excessive state spending. In the 10 most corrupt states, simply reducing corruption to an average level would lower annual state spending by $1,308 per person — or 5.2 percent of state expenditures.”

Unsurprisingly, the South leads the pack in the most corrupt states, with Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Florida appearing in the top ten. Alaska (Bridge to Nowhere, anyone?) shares the spotlight.

The northwest states of Oregon and Washington top the list of least corrupt states.

state's average corruption ranking

Researchers created a “corruption index” by examining more than 25,000 convictions spanning 32 years for violations of federal anti-corruption laws, then comparing this to the number of state employees.

Not only does corruption cost the citizenry in terms of dollars; it influences the level of oppression and the availability of health and education.

More corrupt states spent more on law enforcement and on prisons, reflecting both the legal costs of corruption and the fact that prison construction and operation are potentially lucrative.
More corrupt states spent less on education at all levels, public welfare, health and hospitals, areas that offer fewer opportunities for public corruption.

corrupt by state

More corrupt states also tended to use a shady tactic of deficit financing to conceal spending, and spent more on large construction and highway projects which are rife with bribes and extortion.

If states can engage in such abuse of our money and trust, what goes on at the federal level? Two years ago, we learned of a bribery and bid-rigging scheme worth over $30 million in the Washington , DC area. 15 federal employees and contractors were arrested, before they could engage in a billion dollar ripoff.

This was only one of over 1,200 federal indictments and “informations” against corrupt officials occurring that year.

And what corruption goes on in the shrouded realm of the Pentagon? The amount of fraud and waste have proven to be of epic proportions, but this is only monetary. War crimes cover-ups, invasions of countries based on false pretenses, ignoring rampant sexual assault—these things are far more insidious. They are corruptions of human rights and decency.

Justin Gardner is a peaceful free-thinker with a background in the biological sciences. He is interested in bringing rationality back into the national discourse, and independent journalism as a challenge to the status quo.