OKLAHOMA CITY – Researchers at Indiana University and the University of Hong Kong ranked Oklahoma the eleventh most corrupt state in America.
John L. Mikesell, of Indiana, and Cheol Liu of Hong Kong, studied 25,000 convictions of public officials for violations of federal anti-corruption laws nationwide between 1976 and 2008.
Their analysis was posted at the Public Administration Review.
Mississippi topped the most corrupt list, followed by Louisiana, Tennessee, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Alaska, South Dakota, Kentucky, and Florida.
Oregon ranked as the least corrupt state, followed by Washington, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Utah, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
“I don’t think anyone who has studied Oklahoma’s political history and culture will be surprised by this study’s findings, Andrew C. Spiropoulos, director of State Constitutional Law and Government at Oklahoma City University, said. “We have suffered from a historically high level of political corruption because of several factors. We are a relatively poor state, with limited economic opportunity in the private sector, making public money and jobs more important.”
The period of the study includes the early 1980s when Oklahoma courts convicted or took guilty pleas in a massive county commissioner scandal.
“We are also a state with a strong populist culture, in which politicians who, legitimately or not, use public power and resources to help out the little guy, Spiropoulos said. “For a century, with few exceptions, we lived under one party rule, which provided few checks on those inclined to feed at the public trough.”
While some state analysts believe things have improved in recent years, former Senate President Pro Temp Mike Morgan, Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahan, state Sen. Debbe Leftwich, all Democrats, and Republican state Rep. Randy Terrill, have been convicted of bribery since 2008.
“Given recent events in Oklahoma, it appears that parts of this corruption are still with us today,” R. Keith Gadde, chairman of the political science department at the University Oklahoma, said in an interview.
State Democratic Party Chairman Wallace Collins told Oklahoma Watchdog increased use of state tax subsidies and tax breaks by Republicans creates a climate of corruption.
State Republican Party Chairman Dave Weston did not respond to a request for comment.
“Electing good people, having government financial transparency laws and internal control systems, and rigorously prosecuting violators can dramatically reduce the level of corruption, but it can’t be totally eliminated,” said Vance Fried, director of the Institute for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.
“As long as you have government officials with the ability to spend a lot of taxpayer’s money, you will have some corruption.”
Mississippi Watchdog has reported the 10 most-corrupt states could have reduced per capita spending by an average of $1,308 if they had merely average corruption levels.
“The study found states in the top 10 tend to focus spending on ‘bribe-generating’ spending and items directly beneficial to public officials such as capital projects, construction, highways, borrowing and total salaries and wages,” the story said.