Arizona's the Most Corrupt State in America, According to Survey

Arizona's home to the most political corruption in America.

That's according to a survey of reporters nationwide, done by researchers at Harvard University's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.

The researchers outlined several problems with basing corruption just on convictions, like incomplete data sets and the politics involved in such prosecutions, among other things.

"An alternative to a measure based on convictions is a measure based on perceptions," the researchers say in a written explanation of their results.

Their explanation says previous researchers have made "a compelling argument regarding why we should survey reporters rather than another group of professionals such as trial lawyers or small business owners to measure government corruption.

"Reporters have a better knowledge of state governments and spend a great deal of time observing the government officials and interacting with them," they say.

So, these reporters were asked to gauge how common it is to see "legal corruption" or "illegal corruption" in their state's legislative, judicial, and executive branches:

We define illegal corruption as the private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups. It is the form of corruption that attracts a great deal of public attention. A second form of corruption, however, is becoming more and more common in the U.S.: legal corruption. We define legal corruption as the political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups, be it by explicit or implicit understanding.
Here's what Arizona's reporters had to say:
  • Illegal corruption in the executive branch: very common.
  • Illegal corruption in the legislative branch: very common.
  • Illegal corruption in the judicial branch: slightly common.
  • Legal corruption in the executive branch: moderately common.
  • Legal corruption in the legislative branch: very common.
  • Legal corruption in the judicial branch: slightly common.
Putting that all together, Arizona's easily perceived as the most corrupt state.

We asked the researchers, Illinois State University associate professor Oguzhan Dincer and Colgate University professor Michael Johnston, if there's any other research that points to Arizona being a hotbed of corruption. That's not to say we needed any more proof, but they have some.

Dincer pointed us to previous research he and Johnston have done on the subject, by creating an index based on corruption news stories across the United States from 1977 to 2012.

"Looking at the period average, Arizona is again one of the most corrupt states (in top 10)," Dincer says.

For those who have followed Arizona political news for any time, the state's high ranking is hardly surprising. Arizona's politicians have been embroiled in scandals such as the sting operation known as AzScam, or the "Alt-Fuels Fiasco." Lest we forget that onetime Governor Ev Mecham was impeached, despite later being acquitted of various felony charges. Even recently, Democratic lawmaker Ben Arredondo was busted in an FBI bribery sting, and convicted on corruption charges. There are also seemingly common examples of the so-called "legal corruption" at the state legislature.

And that's just the state government -- Arizona's representatives in the federal government, as well as local politicians, have been caught up in plenty of scandals, ranging from the Keating Five, to many things Sheriff Joe Arpaio has done while in office.

Got a tip? Send it to: Matthew Hendley.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley