The Need for an Appropriate Corruption Measurement Tool for the U.S.

Posted: March 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm, Last Updated: September 7, 2012 at 1:54 am

Author: Andrew Guth,  PhD Candidate, George Mason University, School of Public Policy 

On February 15, 2012 the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) posted an anti-corruption report titled Chicago and Illinois, Leading the Pack in CorruptionBased on the annual reports to Congress on the Activities and Operations of the Public Integrity Section (which details the annual number of public corruption convictions), UIC’s report claims the “…Chicago metropolitan region has been the most corrupt in the country since 1976” (Simpson et al., 2012).  Within a day, national and international news media including the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, USA Today, Reuters, and others labeled Chicago as the most corrupt city in America (Janssen & Spielman, 2012; Lee, 2012; Stern, 2012a, 2012b; Wall Street Journal, 2012; Winter, 2012).  Apparently, nobody investigated the findings and unfortunately, the methods used simply do not add up.

This paper shows that 1) the very foundation of UIC’s methods are flawed thereby rendering the report useless, 2) even if one believes in the methods used by UIC, then both New Orleans and New York out rank Chicago in corruption, 3) the before mentioned statement made by UIC is inaccurate at best, and 4) several retractions and corrections should be made by numerous news media organizations worldwide.  It concludes that there is a general lack of corruption measurement within the United States.  And that, while Transparency International does good work in measuring corruption within a country as a whole and comparing countries’ corruption levels, there is no appropriate corruption measure tailored to the U.S. that allows for measuring (or comparing) corruption in U.S. states, cities, or metropolitan areas.

Using data from 1976-2010, the UIC report shows that Illinois has a combined total of 1,828 public corruption convictions, an average of 51 convictions per year, and a 1.42 conviction rate per 10,000 in the population.  Using the same calculations for other states, the report shows that Illinois ranks third in total convictions (New York: 2,522; California: 2,345), third in conviction’s per year (New York: 70/year; California: 65/year), and third in conviction rate per 10,000 people (Washington D.C.: 16.70; Louisiana: 2.00).  The report states that Washington, D.C. is so high because of many corruption cases being heard in federal courts located in the nation’s capital that originated elsewhere in the country.  Additionally, the report concludes that since both “California and New York have much larger populations than Illinois. It is important to look at corruption per capita.”  When viewed per capita Illinois (1.42) ranks above New York (1.30) and California (0.63) in corruption rate convictions.  According to UIC’s methodology, the report accurately states that “the State of Illinois is the third most corrupt state” (Simpson et al., 2012).

In order to further understand where the centers of corruption are in the U.S., the report compares metropolitan areas such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.  To do this, it breaks down corruption convictions to the federal jurisdictional levels.  And using the same methods that were performed at the state level, the report concludes that the Chicago metropolitan area (i.e. the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois) has the most combined public corruption convictions between 1976 and 2010 with 1,531 convictions.  This out numbers Los Angeles (i.e. the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California) and New York (i.e. the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York) that have 1,275 and 1,202 convictions, respectively (Simpson et al., 2012).

Oddly, the report stops there.  It suggests that since Chicago had the highest total corruption convictions that the “…Chicago metropolitan region has been the most corrupt in the country since 1976” (Simpson et al., 2012).  Contrasting its own methodologies of comparing per capita used at the state level, the UIC’s report chooses not to compare per capita rates at the metropolitan level, even though it explicitly stated earlier in the report that “It is important to look at corruption per capita” (Simpson et al., 2012).  In the current paper, the district level per capita numbers are calculated (Table 1).  Using the same methodology that the UIC report did, it discovered that the Chicago metropolitan region is not the most corrupt in the country.  In fact, just comparing cities used in the UIC’s report shows that New Orleans (i.e. the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana) and New York’s districts have much higher per capita conviction rates.  New Orleans at 3.43 is over double Chicago’s 1.65 conviction rate and New York’s 2.36 is also well above Chicago.

Table 1: District convictions per 10,000 population

Rank for Convictions

 Per Capita

District                (Major Cities)

Convictions      1976 – 2010[1]

Population 2010

Convictions Per 10,000 Population

1

Louisiana-Eastern (New Orleans)

545

1,589,730

3.43

2

New York-Southern (Manhattan)

1202

5,079,339

2.36

3

Illinois-Northern (Chicago)

1531

9,283,766

1.65

4

Wyoming

45

563,626

0.80

5

California-Central (Los Angeles)

1275

18,570,538

0.69

Sources: (Department of Justice, 1991, 2001, 2011; U.S. Census Bureau, 2011)

 

Additionally, corruption convictions are not an established corruption measurement tool.  The most well-known and accepted measurements of corruption come from Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) and the Bribe Payer’s Index.  Respectively, these indices use surveys to find the overall perception of corruption or a firms’ willingness to pay bribes.  Other tools such as the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators and surveys are also used.  In fact, using convictions or conviction rates can severely bias the results.  For example, compare the United States and the Philippines.  Transparency International’s CPI ranks corruption levels on a 0-10 scale, with 0 being extremely corrupt and 10 being the least corrupt.  In addition, it ranks countries from the least corrupt country at number one (New Zealand) to the most corrupt country at 182 (Somalia) (Transparency International, 2011).   And while some experts may argue that the CPI is not totally accurate (meaning New Zealand at number one may not actually be less corrupt than Denmark at number 2), few, if any, would argue that the Philippines at number 129 is less corrupt than the United States at number 24.  Furthermore, the Philippines has a CPI rating of 2.6 compared to the U.S. at 7.1 (Transparency International, 2011).

Using the exact same methodologies as the UIC’s report and data from both countries from 2006-2009 the following numbers emerge (Table 2).[2] The U.S. had a combined total of 4,677 public corruption convictions, an average of 1,069 convictions per year, and a 0.15 conviction rate per 10,000 in the population (Department of Justice, 2011, p. 30; U.S. Census Bureau, 2011).  The Philippines had a combined total of 644 public corruption convictions, an average of 161 convictions per year, and a 0.07 conviction rate per 10,000 in the population (Mangahas & Ilagan, 2011; United Nations, 2012).  According to UIC’s measurement tools, the U.S. is much more corrupt than the Philippines.  In fact, the U.S. corruption conviction rate is double that of the Philippines.

Table 2: Country convictions per 10,000 population

Rank for Convictions

Per Capita

Country

Convictions      2006 – 2009

Population 2009

Convictions Per 10,000 Population

1

United States

4,677

307,006,550

0.15

2

Philippines

655

91,983,000

0.07

Sources: (Department of Justice, 2011; Mangahas & Ilagan, 2011; U.S. Census Bureau, 2011; United Nations, 2012)

 

Moreover, using UIC’s methodology and comparing the two jurisdictional districts of Wyoming (i.e. the U.S. District Court of Wyoming) and Los Angeles (i.e. the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California) suggests Wyoming is more corrupt than Los Angeles with respective conviction rates of 0.80 and 0.69 (Table 1) (Department of Justice, 1991, 2001, 2011; U.S. Census Bureau, 2011).  The reason corruption convictions should not be used is because it is often the case that the most corrupt regions are the ones that rarely bring charges of corruption.  And, when charges are brought, they rarely end in with a conviction.  If a region is corrupt it is easy to bribe one’s way out of charges and or convictions.  It could be that New Orleans, New York, Chicago, and others have so many convictions because they actually charge people with corruption and follow through with a conviction of the crime, while other regions never even charge corrupt individuals.  This is not a certainty, but just one possibility.

UIC’s report simply does not hold up when analyzing its methodologies.  Corruption convictions are not an established measurement tool.  The current paper easily showed through the U.S./Philippine example that using such a tool may actually lead to results that are completely contradictory to recognized measurement tools and good judgment.  In addition, UIC’s report uses different methods when comparing states and metropolitan areas.  In doing so, it makes inaccurate statements by claiming that the “…Chicago metropolitan region has been the most corrupt in the country since 1976” (Simpson et al., 2012).  Even if one were to accept corruption convictions as an appropriate measuring tool, the current paper has also established that at least two other metropolitan areas would be more corrupt.

Unfortunately, the authors of the UIC report plan on using the findings to motivate Chicago officials into extra ethics training and other anticorruption initiatives.  And while this author is a very big proponent of anticorruption initiatives, the motivation behind expanding them must come from sound findings.  Still, a good amount of credit should be given for the attempt made to measure corruption in the U.S.  However, designing and using appropriate corruption measuring tools to study and compare cities and states within the U.S. requires further research.  The hope is that the Federal Government, a university, research center, or non-government organization recognize the need for developing a common methodology for measuring corruption among states and metropolitan areas.  It could use established measurement methods to help develop an appropriate corruption measure tailored to the United States.  And of course, a greater understanding of where corruption is focused allows policymakers to concentrate resources where appropriate.  Much like Transparency International did 20 years ago in the international community, the institution that takes this up would most likely be vaulted into the position of a leading organization as it pertains to corruption in the U.S.

 

References

 

Department of Justice. (1991). Report to Congress on the Activities and Operations of the Public Integrity Section for 1990. Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/criminal/pin/docs/arpt-1990.pdf

Department of Justice. (2001). Report to Congress on the Activities and Operations of the Public Integrity Section for 2000. Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/criminal/pin/docs/arpt-2000.pdf

Department of Justice. (2011). Report to Congress on the Activities and Operations of the Public Integrity Section for 2010. Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/criminal/pin/docs/arpt-2010.pdf

Janssen, K., & Spielman, F. (2012, February 15). It’s official: Chicago is nation’s corruption capital. Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago. Retrieved from http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/10659504-418/its-official-chicago-is-nations-corruption-capital.html

Lee, M. (2012, February 16). Chicago most corrupt city, report shows. Politico. Retrieved from http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0212/72961.html

Mangahas, M., & Ilagan, K. A. (2011, February 9). 4 Ombudsmen, 4 failed crusades vs corruption. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. Retrieved February 22, 2012, from http://pcij.org/stories/4-ombudsmen-4-failed-crusades-vs-corruption/

Simpson, D., Nowlan, J., Gradel, T., Zmuda, M., Sterrett, D., & Cantor, D. (2012). Chicago and Illinois, Leading the Pack in Corruption. Chicago: University of Illinois at Chicago. Retrieved from http://www.uic.edu/depts/pols/ChicagoPolitics/leadingthepack.pdf

Stern, A. (2012a, February 15). Corruption still rife in Chicago years after Al Capone: study. Chicago Tribune. Chicago. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-usa-corruption-chicagotre81e22o-20120215,0,703663.story

Stern, A. (2012b, February 15). Corruption still rife in Chicago years after Al Capone: study. Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/15/us-usa-corruption-chicago-idUSTRE81E22O20120215

Transparency International. (2011). Corruption Perceptions Index: Transparency International. Retrieved February 22, 2012, from http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2011/results/

U.S. Census Bureau. (2011). 2010 Census Interactive Population Search. Retrieved February 22, 2012, from http://2010.census.gov/2010census/popmap/ipmtext.php?fl=

United Nations. (2012). UNdata country profile: Philippines. UNdata. Retrieved February 22, 2012, from http://data.un.org/CountryProfile.aspx?crName=PHILIPPINES

Wall Street Journal. (2012, February 15). Report: Chicago, Los Angeles among most corrupt. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/APf581d96455264e3494dab4434a065bfe.html

Winter, M. (2012, February 15). Study ranks Chicago as nation’s most corrupt region. USA Today. Retrieved from http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2012/02/study-ranks-chicago-as-nations-most-corrupt-region/1#.T0UsNnl31Rx

 

Appendix: Population Calculations (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011)

 

U.S. District Court for the Central District of California: counties

Population

2010

Riverside

2,189,641

San Bernardino

2,035,210

Orange

3,010,232

Los Angeles

9,818,605

San Luis Obispo

269,637

Santa Barbara

423,895

Ventura

823,318

TOTAL:

18,570,538

 

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana: counties

Population

2010

Assumption

23,421

Jefferson

432,552

Lafourche

96,318

Orleans

343,829

Plaquemines

23,042

St. Bernard

35,897

St. Charles

52,780

St. James

22,102

St. John the Baptist

45,924

St. Tammany

233,740

Tangipahoa

121,097

Terrebonne

111,860

Washington

47,168

TOTAL:

1,589,730

 

 

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois: counties

Population

2010

Boone

54,165

Carroll

15,387

Cook

5,194,675

De Kalb

105,160

DuPage

916,924

Grundy

50,063

Jo Daviess

22,678

Kane

515,269

Kendall

114,736

La Salle

113,924

Lake

703,462

Lee

36,031

McHenry

308,760

Ogle

53,497

Stephenson

47,711

Whiteside

58,498

Will

677,560

Winnebago

295,266

TOTAL:

997,153

 

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York: counties

Population

2010

New York (Manhattan)

1,585,873

Bronx

1,385,108

Westchester

949,113

Putnam

99,710

Rockland

311,687

Orange

372,813

Dutchess

297,488

Sullivan

77,547

TOTAL:

5,079,339

 


[1] Note that Louisiana- Eastern and Illinois-Northern had reported convictions of “N/A” for the years 1976-1977.  When these years are left out for all districts the numbers scarcely change: New York-Southern = 2.35, Wyoming = 0.80, and California-Central = 0.68.

[2] Number of corruption convictions overtime in the Philippines is relatively difficult to uncover.  When Philippine figures for 2006-2009 came readily available they were used and the U.S. numbers were then accordingly used.  It should also be noted that the Philippine numbers technically span from December 2005 to December 2009, which is essentially 2006 thru 2009.  So, the 2006-2009 U.S. numbers used are the most accurate and appropriate for comparison.

Write to traccc at traccc@gmu.edu