Sunday, January 18, 2004

Mississippi is the most corrupt state, with North Dakota and Louisiana a close second and third, respectively, according to a report released Friday by a D.C.-based legal newsletter.

The Corporate Crime Reporter based its findings on public corruption convictions per 100,000 people in the 50 states from 1993 to 2002.

The statistics were drawn from annual reports by the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, which charts federal prosecutions and convictions of public officials nationwide.

Public corruption takes on a range of forms, perhaps the most prominent being misuse of taxpayer money by elected officials and acceptance of bribes.

The corruption report comes as scandals break nationwide, said Russell Mokhiber, CCR editor and the report’s author.

He cited the recent indictment of ex-Illinois Gov. George Ryan on federal racketeering, fraud and conspiracy charges stemming from accusations he took money, gifts and loans in exchange for state contracts.

“We need not just strong economies, but strong political economies — reporters, citizen groups, prosecutors, judges, religious leaders — who are willing to speak out about the rampant corruption in our midst,” Mr. Mokhiber said.

He pointed to Connecticut, where some are calling for the impeachment of Gov. John G. Rowland, who has admitted to lying about taking gifts from a state contractor and politically appointed employees.

Connecticut ranks relatively low in overall corruption. According to the CCR report, it is 31st on the list, with only about 2.2 public corruption convictions per 100,000 people from 1993 through 2002.

The highest conviction rate by far was in the District. But it is not a state and its flood of corruption cases results mainly because it is home to the federal government, which Mr. Mokhiber said accounts for a disproportionate number of convictions — about 453 from 1993 through 2002.

“The vast majority of public corruption convictions … are done by federal prosecutors,” he said, noting more of the cases occur in the District because it is the workplace of so many federal public officials.

As for states, Mississippi had 215 convictions for a population of 2.9 million, a rate of 7.48 per 100,000 persons. While Louisiana had 101 more convictions, its larger population ranked it lower — third. North Dakota, with less than a million people, had 45 convictions. Rounding out the top 10 were Alaska, Illinois, Montana, South Dakota, Kentucky, Florida and New York, which had 874 convictions for its population of about 19.2 million, a rate of 4.56 per 100,000.

Maryland and Virginia both ranked in the middle of the pack, with Virginia ranked 21st with 2.86 convictions per 100,000 persons, and Maryland 37th with 1.57 convictions per 100,000 persons.

The most populated states, Texas and California, also ranked near the middle. Texas was 29th with 527 convictions for its 21.8 million people and California 25th with 948 convictions for its 35.1 million people.

The least corrupt state, according to the report, is Nebraska, which had just nine convictions for its population of about 1.7 million — a rate of 0.52. Also near the bottom were Oregon, New Hampshire and Iowa.

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