How corruption (in states like Mississippi or Louisiana) distorts spending

States where corruption is highest (looking at you Mississippi) appear to spend more and in different ways than states where it is not, according to a new study.

The most corrupt states — Mississippi, Louisiana or Tennessee are the worst — tend to spend more on construction, highways, and salaries and wages than on social goods, such as education and health spending,  John L. Mikesell of Indiana University, Bloomington, and Cheol Liu of the City University of Hong Kong find in a new paper published this month in a public administration journal. On average, they found, nine of the 10 most corrupt states could have saved $1,308 per capita if they could only have kept corruption closer to the national average.

Here’s how they came to that conclusion. To figure out how and whether corruption affected state spending, they first needed a solid, consistent measure of corruption itself. They found that in the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section, which maintains annual numbers of public official convictions by state. Mikesell and Liu focused on 50-state statistics from 1997 through 2008, which covers more than 25,000 convictions.

There were two concerns they sought to address. First, they focused only on convictions that resulted from violations of federal corruption laws. State and local laws can vary in strictness and scope and might thereby account for differences in conviction counts. Federal law, on the other hand, is uniform across states. Second, they had to account for differences in resources. Prosecutors and courts in different regions have different caseloads and work schedules, which might affect how many convictions they can secure. After controlling for factors such as work hours, judges per citizen, and case pending rates, the researchers found that resources didn’t have an impact on the corruption conviction rate. In other words, the Justice Department’s statistics provide a valid and consistent yardstick for corruption.

Oregon was the least corrupt state in the union, per public employee, they found. The 10 least corrupt states are spread across the nation, in fact: Washington, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Vermont, Utah, New Hampshire, Colorado and Kansas all joined Oregon atop the list. The 10 most corrupt states, in order, where: Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Alaska, South Dakota, Kentucky, and Florida. Here’s a map showing each state’s relative level of corruption over that roughly decade-long timespan.

Reverse engineering a model

Armed with what they felt was a valid, reliable measure of corruption, Mikesell and Lui then put together a model to track how closely a basket of variables tracked to corruption, based on models used by other corruption researchers.

A number of variables—some obvious, others not—were linked to state spending in statistically significant ways. Those were: past spending, interparty rivalry, fiscal centralization, governor’s party, political ideology of citizens, the size of the population aged 18 to 64, urbanization, population, unemployment rates, personal income, and—you guessed it—corruption.

Past research has found a lot of effects of corruption. It has been linked to a reduction in capital investment, inefficient use of public resources, reduced economic productivity, lower output per worker and exacerbation of income inequality. According to Miksell and Liu, it appears also to be tied to overall spending and how spending is allocated.

States with higher levels of corruption are likely to spend more per capita on construction, highways, wages and salaries, borrowing, corrections and police, they found. They also tended to spend less per capita on education, public welfare, health and hospitals. Here’s their list of corruption by state:

Ranking State Corruption conviction per 10,000 public employees
1 Oregon 0.128
2 Washington 0.162
3 Minnesota 0.173
4 Nebraska 0.188
5 Iowa 0.197
6 Vermont 0.203
7 Utah 0.210
8 New Hampshire 0.213
9 Colorado 0.224
10 Kansas 0.238
11 Wisconsin 0.252
12 Wyoming 0.268
13 Idaho 0.287
14 Michigan 0.314
15 North Carolina 0.325
16 Indiana 0.339
17 Arizona 0.341
18 Maine 0.359
19 Texas 0.360
20 Nevada 0.361
21 Arkansas 0.362
22 California 0.381
23 New Mexico 0.382
24 Connecticut 0.434
25 Massachusetts 0.455
26 Hawaii 0.456
27 Rhode Island 0.467
28 Maryland 0.468
29 Delaware 0.490
30 New Jersey 0.522
31 Georgia 0.540
32 West Virginia 0.547
33 Montana 0.555
34 Virginia 0.556
35 Missouri 0.566
36 South Carolina 0.567
37 North Dakota 0.577
38 Ohio 0.584
39 New York 0.593
40 Oklahoma 0.622
41 Florida 0.645
42 Kentucky 0.650
43 South Dakota 0.694
44 Alaska 0.705
45 Alabama 0.711
46 Pennsylvania 0.746
47 Illinois 0.746
48 Tennessee 0.836
49 Louisiana 0.842
50 Mississippi 0.855
Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
SECTION: {section=politics, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=politics, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Most Read Politics
Next Story
Niraj Chokshi | June 17