Alabama doesn’t only have the number one college football team in the country, according to a new study by Illinois State University’s Institute for Corruption Studies the Yellowhammer State also leads the nation in political corruption.
The report puts Alabama at the top of the list for the most corrupt state in the union during 2017. The state comes in second, behind Kentucky, in “illegal corruption,” conduct that is completely against the law. Alabama ranks highest concerning what researchers call “legal corruption” which is business conduct by public officials that is unethical but technically still legal.
“Quite frankly, it’s been pretty sticky, especially states like Alabama…once a state becomes corrupt, it stays corrupt for a while.” Oguzhan Dincer, director of the institute, told Yellowhammer News. He said their findings have been fairly consistent since he and Michael Johnston, his research partner, administered their first study in 2014.
Alabama’s average for all three branches of government was 11 points for “illegal corruption” and 13 for “legal corruption.” It was virtually unchanged from the 2014 study, when Alabama had 11 points in legal corruption and 9 points in illegal corruption.
Dincer said it is most appropriate to group states by their corruption index, and Alabama consistently ranks in the top tier on that index. The 2017 rankings put Alabama at the top when it comes to both kinds of corruption for all three branches.
Other studies have tried to evaluate corruption by analyzing conviction data. But according to Dincer these methods have some drawbacks. Partisan bias can play a large role in how politicians are convicted, as Democratic prosecutors more enthusiastically go after Republican wrongdoing, and vice versa. Also, individual prosecutors intensity can vary state by state.
Dincer and Johnston instead sought to evaluate the corruption by turning to reporters who cover state government affairs.
“Instead of randomly selecting thousands of individuals in every state, we decided to ask reporters,” Dincer said. “We thought they would know better.”
Dincer’s team consulted 1,000 journalists who cover state politics, gathering responses from 48 states. All rated their perception of corruption on a scale of 1 to 5 for each branch of their state’s government.
Dincer recognizes that relying on journalists has drawbacks, too. He said it is inherently biased and prone to swings due to high-profile cases. He is, however, convinced that the advantages outweigh the drawbacks compared to other methods and desires to build 10 years’ worth of data for the tracking of changes in perception and policy.