by Joe Sonka
A new study by Harvard University’s Center for Ethics finds that Kentucky’s state government is among the most corrupt in the country, and second to none when it comes to the “legal corruption” of political favors in exchange for campaign contributions.
Whereas the most common measure of corruption uses only federal convictions, the Harvard study measures corruption based on the perceptions of experts, surveying hundreds of news and investigative reporters covering state politics. The reporters ranked the existence of both illegal and legal corruption in the executive, legislative and judicial branches on a scale of 1 to 5, from not common at all to extremely common.
Kentucky was one of only two states to receive the highest ranking of 5 for legal corruption in both the executive and legislative branches, in addition to being near the top for the judicial branch with a ranking of 3 for such corruption being moderately common.
Harvard found Kentucky to be one of only two states where legal corruption in the executive branch is “extremely common”
Kentucky also ranked near the worst for illegal corruption, defined as government officials receiving private gains in exchange for providing specific benefits. The legislative branch in Kentucky was one of 10 where such corruption was perceived to be very common, all receiving the highest scores. Kentucky’s executive branch ranked among the five worst, with illegal corruption perceived as between moderately common and very common. Judicial branch corruption in Kentucky was only slightly common with a ranking of 2, though only California had a worse ranking with 2.5.
Factoring in all of the responses, the Harvard study ranked Kentucky the third worst in the country for illegal corruption, and the very worst for legal corruption – meaning it is perceived as even more corrupt than Illinois and New Jersey, commonly know as two state governments with the worst history of corruption. (Louisiana, another state with a poor reputation, was not included, as no reporters from the state responded to the survey.)
Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, was indicted in October for allegedly giving $46,000 worth of bribes to a state mine inspector to ignore environmental regulations his coal company violated. Kentucky instituted sweeping ethics reforms after the BOPTROT scandal from the early-1990s sent 15 state legislators to prison, including the speaker of the house, though the perception of corruption within the halls of Frankfort has not vanished – at least among the press corps. While other rankings of corruption find many states worse off than Kentucky, at least our political media is on its toes and not taking anyone at their word.
* Text describing the map above previously referred to the legislative branch
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville. He is a former news editor at LEO Weekly and founder of the Kentucky political blog Barefoot & Progressive. Sonka also has written for The Nation, ThinkProgress and RH Reality Check, and is occasionally a talking head on MSNBC sharing his …