A recent survey from Harvard’s Safra Center for Ethics ranks Pennsylvania and New Jersey among the most corrupt states, while Delaware was rated somewhere in the middle.
The study relies on journalists’ perceptions of how common corruption is in their state. And several states were underrepresented because journalists there didn’t participate.
So, it’s not a perfect measuring stick. And corruption is notoriously difficult to measure.
The most compelling part of economics professor Oz Dincer’s paper is his critique of the U.S. Justice Department’s efforts to quantify it.
The agency relies on federal corruption convictions, which often depend on politics. In other words, corruption data can be corrupted.
Dincer said he became interested in such matters because of his Turkish heritage.
“Yeah, I am coming from one of the most corrupt countries in the world,” he said. “I think Turkey’s hopeless, so I’m working on U.S. data.”
His survey asked journalists about illegal corruption – swapping cash or gifts for political favors.
But Dincer also wanted to know about legal corruption, which he defines as political benefits such as campaign contributions or endorsements in exchange for a specific favor.
“That’s the most interesting part of corruption, but nobody’s interested in that. At least, nobody tried to measure it so far,” he said. “This is the first attempt to measure legal corruption.”
He’s hoping to conduct the survey annually for 10 years.In this first attempt, he received responses from just 280 of the reporters he queried.
Several states had responses from just a few journalists, and there were none from Louisiana.