There has been an astonishing parade of convictions, suspensions, and resignations of Alabama politicians in all three branches of state government in the last few years. In the summer of 2016, Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) was found guilty of 12 felony ethics violations and sentenced to serve four years in prison, though he still remains free while his case is being appealed.
This past September former House Majority Leader Micky Hammon (R-Decatur), pled guilty to mail fraud for using campaign money for personal expenses. And earlier last year, Governor Robert Bentley plead guilty for violating campaign finance laws and resigned halfway through his second term in office in disgrace.
Toss in former House members Greg Wren (R-Montgomery), who plead guilty to a misdemeanor for using his political office for personal gain and Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham) who is awaiting sentencing and expected to serve several years in a federal prison, after pleading guilty to federal charges of conspiracy, bribery, tax evasion and wire fraud. So, it should be no surprise that Alabama is perceived to be home to one of the most corrupt governments of the 50 states.
Last year I was asked to participate in a study conducted by former fellows at Harvard Law School’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. Oguzhan Dincer, Associate Professor of Economics at the Illinois State University and Michael Johnston, a Charles A. Dana Professor of Political Science at Colgate University (Emeritus) surveyed more than 1,000 Journalists covering state politics and issues related to corruption across all 50 states. The purpose, of which, was to measure illegal and legal corruption for each government branch.
Illegal corruption was defined as the private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups. While, legal corruption was defined as the political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups, be it by explicit or implicit understanding.
The researchers found legal corruption is perceived to be more common than illegal corruption in all three branches of government. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being not at all common and 5 being extremely common, Alabama scored a 4 or higher in legal corruption across all branches of government.
Their survey concluded, “with respect to illegal corruption, Alabama and Kentucky are perceived to be the most corrupt states, followed by Louisiana and Oklahoma, and some other usual suspects such as Mississippi and New Jersey. Kansas and Montana are perceived to be the least corrupt states, followed by Minnesota, California, Colorado, Iowa, Idaho, Washington and Wyoming. With respect to legal corruption, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Wisconsin are perceived to be the most corrupt states followed by New York and Texas and a group of states, which includes Illinois, Kentucky, and Oregon. Colorado and Nebraska are the least corrupt states followed by Minnesota, Montana, and Washington.
It is all bad news for Alabama, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Oklahoma as their aggregate scores are in the highest quartiles of both illegal and legal corruption. Not so bad news for Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming, which are perceived to be least corrupt both illegally and legally.”
According to the authors’ “these findings are broadly consistent with a number of comparative assessments of state corruption over the years, suggesting that the extent of corruption in state governments is not just a matter of contemporary personalities and events, but is rather a result of deeper and more lasting characteristics and influences.”
Don’t expect much to change anytime soon in the Heart of Dixie. With confusing and lack ethics laws and unlimited campaign donations from the deep pockets of special interest groups, expect more of the dumbest and greediest politicians to get their hands caught in the cookie jar. While other state politicians and legislators will continue to enrich themselves by means of legal corruption, but careful enough not to cross the criminal line.