Rhode Island One of the Least Corrupt States [Updated]

A couple days ago, Daniel Lawlor pulled out the old saw of Rhode Island’s corrupt politics, telling us “political corruption is nothing new to Rhode Island.” While Mr. Lawlor’s article is nothing more than really a brief political history of the state, hardly more objectionable then telling us that some folks don’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom, it ties into a serious misapprehension about the state; namely that Rhode Island is a corrupt one. While I would hate to deprive people something to complain about, the facts don’t align with that particular point of view.

In reality, two different rankings (relying on federal data) have been published in the past year which put corruption nowhere near any sort of objectionable levels. The most recent is a study that showed up just over a week ago. Published by the University of Illinois  at Chicago’s Political Science Department, the report is titled “Chicago and Illinois, Leading the Pack in Corruption” and shows exactly what it says, that Illinois’ has convicted more people on public corruption charges than any other major metropolitan area. Providence and Rhode Island don’t even rank in the top 15.

Going down the list of appendices, we discover that from 2001 to 2010, the United States Attorney’s Office of Rhode Island convicted exactly 23 people of public corruption. States that ranked equal to or lower were Idaho (23), New Hampshire (16), Wyoming (16), and Vermont (15). In just totals, Rhode Island is the fifth least corrupt state in the entire United States. Per capita may change that number, but still not to astronomical levels.*

The Daily Beast released corruption rankings of the states and the District of Columbia nearly two years ago. Using a slightly different period of time (1998-2008), The Beast ranked states according to an aggregate of five categories of convictions; public corruption, racketeering and extortion (organized crime), forgery and counterfeiting, fraud, and embezzlement. Only one of those categories exclusive applies to public officials; the rest can all be committed by private citizens. The Beast ranked their top ten most corrupt states (from greatest to least) as Tennessee, Virginia, Mississippi, Delaware, North Carolina, Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Oklahoma. Where did Rhode Island fall? 11th? 15th? 20th? 25th?

27th. Out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, Rhode Island fell in a respectable slightly below the middle. However, it wasn’t public corruption or organized crime (we ranked 32nd in each). What brought our position up was fraud (14th) and embezzlement (7th), crimes completely capable of being committed by private citizens. Indeed, The Daily Beast singled out Lisa Torres of Johnston as their example. For those keeping track, we ranked 44th in forgery and counterfeiting.

The reality is that a state like Rhode Island is well-suited to battling corruption and keeping it out of the state. A relatively small population lowers the possibilities, while the high density means keeping corruption a secret is next to impossible. The ease of access the Rhode Island press corps has to lawmakers (I mean physically, it’s far easier to reach them then say those in Illinois), combined with our capital’s location in a major metropolitan area and media market increases the incentive to play by the rules. At present, the big news story of possible corruption was Sam Zurier, in a tiff with some constituents over the paltry sum of $100. Considering the circus that went on over that, the reaction if someone was corrupt for a sum of real value would probably overwhelm us for months.

Citizens have every right to complain about government, and I don’t blame them for viewing the state in a negative light, since focusing on the negative is a common experience for people. But to tar our government with the brush of false corruption is a reckless thing. Rhode Island is a relative example of a government that plays by the rules (whether those rules are unfair and whether the winner is who we’d like it to be are other discussions). It’s time we congratulated ourselves for that, instead of insulting our own state. Corruption may not be new to us, but it is growing foreign to us.

*UPDATED:

According to my math (it may be shaky), Rhode Island ranks about 37th or 38th out of 53 states and territories in per capita public corruption convictions per 10000 residents. D.C.’s numbers may be inflated because it often tries officials from other states. Due to rounding, position numbers are not 100% accurate. Numbers utilize total convictions from 2001-2010 per U.S. Attorney’s Office District (states/territories with multiple offices have had totals combined) and the state’s population in the 2010 census.

  1. DC: 5.6 per 10000
  2. Guam & NMI: 3.56 per 10000
  3. Virgin Islands: 3.38  per 10000
  4. Georgia: 2.29 per 10000
  5. Louisiana: 0.85 per 10000
  6. North Dakota: 0.82 per 10000
  7. Puerto Rico: 0.74 per 10000
  8. South Dakota: 0.73 per 10000
  9. Florida: 0.70 per 10000
  10. Alaska: 0.67 per 10000
  11. Kentucky: 0.65 per 10000
  12. Mississippi: 0.60 per 10000
  13. Montana: 0.60 per 10000
  14. Alabama: 0.57 per 10000
  15. Delaware: 0.51 per 10000
  16. Virginia: 0.52 per 10000
  17. New Jersey: 0.49 per 10000
  18. Illinois: 0.44 per 10000
  19. Ohio: 0.43 per 10000
  20. Pennsylvania: 0.43 per 10000
  21. Tennessee: 0.41 per 10000
  22. West Virginia: 0.39 per 10000
  23. Maryland: 0.38 per 10000
  24. Oklahoma: 0.36 per 10000
  25. Massachusetts: 0.32 per 10000
  26. Hawaii: 0.32 per 10000
  27. Missouri: 0.31 per 10000
  28. Arkansas: 0.30 per 10000
  29. New York: 0.30 per 10000
  30. Connecticut: 0.28 per 10000
  31. Texas: 0.28 per 10000
  32. Wyoming: 0.28 per 10000
  33. Arizona: 0.27 per 10000
  34. Maine: 0.26 per 10000
  35. Michigan: 0.25 per 10000
  36. Vermont: 0.24 per 10000
  37. New Mexico: 0.22 per 10000
  38. Rhode Island: 0.22 per 10000
  39. Wisconsin: 0.21 per 10000
  40. Colorado: 0.19 per 10000
  41. North Carolina: 0.19 per 10000
  42. California: 0.18 per 10000
  43. Iowa: 0.17 per 10000
  44. Idaho 0.15 per 10000
  45. Nebraska: 0.14 per 10000
  46. Utah: 0.14 per 10000
  47. Nevada: 0.13 per 10000
  48. Washington: 0.13 per 10000
  49. Kansas: 0.12 per 10000
  50. Minnesota: 0.12 per 10000
  51. New Hampshire: 0.12 per 10000
  52. South Carolina: 0.12 per 10000
  53. Oregon: 0.10 per 10000

Related posts:
  1. Racial profiling in Rhode Island
  2. Rhode Island, Humanism and the Death Penalty

A native-born Rhode Islander, educated in Providence Public Schools, went to college in North Carolina and a political junkie and pessimistic optimist.

17 responses to “Rhode Island One of the Least Corrupt States [Updated]”

  1. Pat Crowley

    Thank you, Samuel.  This is just another one of those myths put forward, mostly by the conservative media, to demonize their political opponents.  Just like the myth of the flight of the earls or the myth that Unions run the state, the corruption myth isn’t based on facts, its based upon agendas.

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  2. RightToWork

    Excuse me, but the major problem with Rhode Island corruption isn’t that it is being prosecuted, it is the fact that it is NOT being prosecuted. A lot of what other areas would consider corruption is actually legal in Rhode Island, especially regarding nepotism, campaign contributions, patronage, double dipping, mass disability pension abuse, and the like. Even the hiring process at the very political AG’s office, which is *supposed* to be investigating these things and makes a token effort at best, makes a significant portion of their hiring decisions based on political patronage and campaign-contribution-related factors. Any figures without factoring in per capital (such as total convictions) are meaningless for Rhode Island, since it has a relatively small population, but even for the per capita figures, Iannazzi, Moreau, Sauro, and all the other unenforced “soft-corruption” crap that has gone on in recent years would not be included in them, and that is precisely the public image problem Rhode Island faces. The fact remains, and it is common knowledge in other states, that Rhode Island is a next to merit-less society in which practically all hiring, promotion, and public contract decisions are based on favors and who you know.

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  3. Pat Crowley

    next thing you know we’ll be chasing black helicopters around too.  and here I was hoping the tin foil hats had been put away.

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    1. RightToWork

      Pat – Your jokes don’t even make sense – how could anyone “chase around” a helicopter?

      You’ve been quiet lately. I thought maybe the “RIFuture Board” told you to stay away from the new site because you became too much of a liability and controversial figure during its last incarnation. You treated the last RIFuture site like the NEA union’s wholly-owned propaganda machine and we all saw what happened to readership as a result of that.
       

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  4. mdlenz

    @RightToWork

    You have no evidence of any of that, absolutely none.  You can talk about all this stuff but present no statistical evidence.  What your talking about is all hearsay.  

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    1. RightToWork

      “No evidence?” The papers have documented the Iannazzi, Moreau, and Sauro shenanigans from here to China. Everyone knows it’s all crooked – and what happened? Nothing, Nothing, and Nothing. I lived in Rhode Island for 26 years, so I know how it all works. I applied to the AG’s office after I graduated law school and I was solicited for campaign contributions. Would you like to go to the public payrolls? Disability retirement for the Providence Fire Department was 8 out of 10 in the early 90′s. It’s still at an absurd 58% – How many rescinded pensions? How many prosecutions? 0 and 0, and it’s the same thing for the police. Don’t tell me there’s “no evidence.” Everyone knows how things work around RI… I suppose Iannazzi earned his 90k at the state house working for Ruggerio? Ha!

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  5. Joe Wepley

    “Finally, in regards to your nepotism/patronage/cronyism complaint, that may be true, but if it is, it extends to the private sector just as much, perhaps more so.”
    There’s a big difference here. People are FORCED to pay for public sector corruption.

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  6. Barry

    I have to say I think RTW has the overall better arguments here.  Even when not criminally convicted (as has happened here in North Providence all too often, sometimes because those caught were perhaps not very bright), the who-you-know-where’s-mine pervasiveness is hard to measure but I too have a lot of anecdotal evidence in many fields as to how that undermines effectiveness.  I think progressives should take this kind of corruption more seriously because the reality and perception of widespread abuse undermines the willingness of the public to support government efforts to tackle problems even when the private sector has failed.

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  7. DogDiesel

    Using convictions to measure corruption could be flipped on it’s head easily as measurement of governments effectiveness in prosecuting corruption. Being a low number on the conviction list may just be interpreted as being more corrupt.

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    [...] (it takes about three years for a teacher to become truly effective). Ethics is just a shot at the not-really corrupt political culture. The Environmental policy is actually pretty progressive, and something I can get [...]

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