Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Shocker: Alabama Is NOT No. 1 in Corruption

Alabamians are fond of saying, "Thank God for Mississippi," particularly when we rank 49th in something and have only the Magnolia State behind us. And that happens a lot.

But now, we can say, "Thank God for Louisiana."

A survey by the Corporate Crime Reporter found that Louisiana is the most corrupt state in the country. The ranking is based on data from the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, examining federal convictions per 100,000 residents over the past 10 years.

Louisiana is followed in the top five by Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, and Ohio. Hmmm. Four of the top five most corrupt states are from the South. Surprise, surprise.

And rounding out the top 10, we have Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Jersey, and New York.

This survey was from fall 2007, so the recent antics of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich were not included.

A couple of thoughts from the Schnauzer gallery:

* This survey doesn't begin to reflect the amount of actual corruption in the United States. The editor of Corporate Crime Reporter notes that at least 80 percent of public corruption cases are handled by federal, not state, authorities. And the feds can look into only a tiny percentage of corruption cases. That's why judges and sheriffs in places like Shelby County, Alabama, make no effort to hide their unlawful acts. They know the chances of getting caught are infinitesimally small.

* This survey doesn't take into account corruption in the Justice Department itself, particularly over the past eight years. If you factor corrupt Bushies like Alice Martin and Leura Canary into the mix, Alabama almost certainly becomes No. 1.

Scott Horton, of Harper's, nicely summarizes the special role Bush prosecutors have played in Alabama corruption:

Martin and Canary, who remain the subject of multiple internal ethics probes in the Bush Justice Department, have a long track record of abusive political prosecutions. While Illinois and Alaska are suddenly gaining attention over their multifaceted political corruption probes and prosecutions, Alabama still charts a special place. I imagine even Canary and Martin would argue that their state has a culture of political corruption which puts it in the running for the honor of “most corrupt” among the fifty members of the union. But Alabama distinguishes itself by the special role played by federal prosecutors in the process. The real center of the state’s political corruption lies smack in the U.S. attorney’s offices. Martin and Canary have mastered the art of using their prosecutorial powers to advance the interests of their political party and political associates, as Bennett notes. And they have done so with a wink and a nod from the Bush Justice Department, which has systematically swept all complaints against them–notably led by their career employees–under the carpet. These awards are richly deserved.

Russell Mokhiber, editor of Corporate Crime Reporter, has an excellent quote about the nature of public corruption:

“Public officials in any given state can be corrupt to the core, and if a federal prosecutor doesn’t have the resources or the sheer political will to bring the case and win a conviction, the public corruption will not be reflected in the Justice Department’s data set."

That's a major story in Alabama. Corruption is a bipartisan problem, but Republican sleaze has received almost no scrutiny in our state over the past eight years. Hopefully that will begin to change on January 20.

In the meantime, we can learn a lot from this sobering appraisal of our corrupt culture by Frank Rich, of The New York Times.

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