When the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago released a study a few months back crowning Chicago the most corrupt metro area in the nation (and Illinois the third most corrupt state), it wasn’t exactly a surprise.
Yet with the ink barely dry on the UIC report, a collaboration led by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based watchdog group, released its own report card on political corruption nationwide. While no parent would be proud of its grades (eight Cs, two Ds, and an F), Illinois ranked as the tenth least corrupt state (tied with Hawaii and Massachusetts) in the country.
Who’s right? You be the judge.
REPORT 1: UNIV. OF ILLINOIS AT CHICAGO
METHODOLOGY: Took a historical approach, adding up the number of federal convictions of Illinois elected officials and their aides between 1976 and 2010.
KEY NUMBERS: The report calculates that 1,828 Illinoisans have been convicted on public corruption charges since 1976, the third most of any state, behind New York (2,522) and California (2,345). Of those, 1,531 are from the Chicago metro area, the most of any federal court district.
CONCLUSIONS: “The extent and pervasiveness of bribery, fraud, stealing from the taxpayers, and illegal patronage have made the city and state national leaders of corruption.”
PROPOSED REFORMS: Urges a law allowing voters to pass ethics reforms by referendum. Also recommends an increased role for the city inspector general, amending the city’s ethics ordinance to apply to aldermen and their staffs, and banning almost all gifts to elected officials.
REPORT 2: CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY
METHODOLOGY: Analyzed 330 “corruption risk indicators” in 14 categories—including campaign financing, ethics enforcement, public access to information, and the redistricting and state budget processes—taking into account whether laws exist and if they’re effective.
KEY NUMBERS: Gives Illinois an overall score of 74% (a solid C on its A-to-F scale) including 94% for internal auditing, 82% for public access to information, and 100% for competitive bidding processes for major public contracts.
CONCLUSIONS: After suffering through indictment after indictment of local political figures, Chicago and Illinois have enacted a series of ethics reforms that are now stronger than those of most other states. “New campaign finance limits [and] an overhaul of state procurement rules . . . amount to substantive change.”
PROPOSED REFORMS: Favors continued strengthening of existing ethics laws by closing loopholes.