Which States Have the Highest Public Corruption Convictions?

See how your state compares to others.
by | March 23, 2012 AT 12:30 PM
AP/Charles Rex Arbogast

States’ efforts to curb corruption were under the microscope this week after a new study detailed accountability practices and related laws throughout the country.

The State Integrity Investigation report, released Monday, graded each state’s corruption risk by assessing 330 measures across ethics enforcement, campaign finance, procurement and numerous other areas.  Eight states received failing grades, with only five scoring in the “B” range.

Many were surprised to hear New Jersey – home of The Sopranos – topped the list with a B+. The state received high marks for ethics enforcement, lobbying disclosure and internal auditing.

The study provides an exhaustive review of how some states made progress, while others still lack controls to mitigate corruption.

So how do the rankings compare to public corruption convictions?

The Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section compiles annual data on public corruption prosecutions from district offices. Governing analyzed data from 2001 to 2010, comparing it with population numbers and government employees for each state.

There are quite a few ways to break down the data. In terms of raw totals, the more populous states racked up the most prosecutions over the decade, led by Texas (697), California (679), Florida (674) and New York (589).

Numbers for convictions per capita tell a different story. Here’s a table of states with the highest per-capita rates for the decade, compared with 2010 Census figures:

State 2010 Population 2001-2010 Public Corruption Convictions Convictions/100K Population
Louisiana 4,533,372 384 8.5
North Dakota 672,591 55 8.2
South Dakota 814,180 59 7.2
Alaska 710,231 48 6.8
Kentucky 4,339,367 281 6.5
Mississippi 2,967,297 178 6.0
Montana 989,415 59 6.0
Alabama 4779736 273 5.7
Virginia 8,001,024 413 5.2
Delaware 897,934 46 5.1

However, each state's public employee workforce is not necessarily proportional to its population. Alaska, for instance, has far more workers on its payrolls per capita than Pennsylvania and other states. The Justice Department data includes public employees for all levels of government, along with private citizens involved in corruption cases.

With that in mind, we also compiled the Labor Department’s 2010 annual employment data for government workers. The table below shows states with the highest conviction rates per 10,000 employed in local, state and federal government:

State 2010 Government Employment 2001-2010 Public Corruption Convictions Convictions/10,000 Employees
Louisiana 366,300 384 10.5
Kentucky 330,700 281 8.5
South Dakota 78,700 59 7.5
Delaware 63,800 46 7.2
Mississippi 249,000 178 7.1
Pennsylvania 761,200 542 7.1
Alabama 387,200 273 7.1
North Dakota 79,600 55 6.9
New Jersey 640,000 429 6.7
Montana 91,400 59 6.5
Ohio 780,200 495 6.3
Florida 1,112,300 674 6.1

Oregon (1.2 convictions per 10,000 employees) and Kansas (1.3 convictions) had the lowest rates.

Finally, here’s a further breakdown of those convicted over the ten year period (state-by-state figures were unavailable):

Local government: 8,993 (44 percent)

State government: 1,810 (9 percent)

Federal government: 4,429 (22 percent)

Private citizens: 5,140 (25 percent)

Of course, these numbers in no way represent the actual level of corruption in states. The Justice Department also occasionally holds trials in the District of Columbia, even though the alleged crimes occur elsewhere, so the District’s per-capita rate is higher than any state. Each U.S. Attorney’s Office's agenda and staffing levels likely sway the totals as well.

Then, there’s the obvious question: How many corrupt officials are actually caught?

The University of Illinois at Chicago published a report earlier this year using a similar methodology, declaring the Chicago metropolitan area the most corrupt in the country and Illinois the third most corrupt state. Researchers based their rankings on total public corruption convictions since 1976.

The pronouncement was hardly a surprise to residents of the Windy City. This week, a federal corrections facility in Colorado got a new inmate, number 40892-424, better known as former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.


Click a state in the map below to display annual corruption convictions data:

Convictions per 100K pop., 2001-2010
0-2 2.1-4 4.1-6 > 6

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau