Jim Dey | We're at top ... in corruption

Jim Dey | We're at top ... in corruption

A group of researchers in Chicago recently issued a report that will shock the people of Illinois. Not!

The report, prepared by political scientists at the University of Illinois-Chicago, not only is not shocking, it's not even surprising. To further belabor the point, the only thing surprising about the study — "Continuing Corruption in Illinois" — is that anyone who pays attention to public affairs here would be surprised.

Nonetheless, the report is useful because it's another reminder where the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois are in an age where elected and public officials promise transparency and pledge fidelity to the taxpayer dollar while grabbing with both hands.

"Chicago continues to be the most corrupt city in the country, and Illinois continues to be the third-most corrupt state," states a new report written by, among others, former Chicago Alderman Dick Simpson.

Preferring to laugh about that problem rather than cry, Chicagoans have always taken a perverse sense of pride in their irredeemably dishonest city. Since there's no reason the rest of Illinois shouldn't feel similar pride, a deep dive into the numbers shows that Illinois (12.5 million) really is much more corrupt than much larger states like California (37 million), Texas (25 million) and New York (19 million).

"... Illinois remains the third-most corrupt state compared to all 50 states and the District of Columbia. While New York, California, Texas and Florida each have more total public corruption than Illinois, their populations are much larger than Illinois. Therefore, they rank lower than Illinois on a per capita basis," the report states.

In that vein, Louisiana ranks No. 2 when measured on a per capita basis.

"Louisiana, which also has much lower population than Illinois, ranks second on a per capita basis. It is another state, like Illinois, with a long history of control by a corrupt political machine. Louisiana has long been dominated by a corrupt Democratic Party machine going back to before the days of Huey Long," the report states.

Give the report credit for properly assessing the political atmosphere in Louisiana with respect to Huey Long. Corruption in Louisiana often is attributed solely to Huey, who was known as the "Kingfish" and at one point in his career was both a U.S. senator from Louisiana as well as the state's governor.

But as T. Harry Williams' magnificent biography "Huey Long" makes clear, corruption preceded Long and continued well after his 1935 assassination at the capitol building. He was just better at it than anyone before or since.

The locale holding the No. 1 position in terms of public corruption per capita should be no surprise if readers think hard. Where do most ambitious politicians want to go to pursue public service?

"Washington, D.C., has the most public corruption per capita, primarily because the population in the district is comparably so low, but also because it is the center of national government where the Department of Justice is headquartered," the report states.

For example, D.C. has a population of roughly 600,000. Louisiana has 4.5 million.

The industriousness of our state's elected and public officials is not the only perverse point of pride for state residents.

How often do people complain that nothing ever gets done in Springfield and Washington, D.C., because our elected officials are too partisan, that Democrats and Republicans won't work together because of their political differences? The report noted that in Illinois and Chicago, "corruption thrived under both Democratic and Republican parties."

"Corruption is nonpartisan here," the report states.

Exhibit A for that proposition is the corrupt regime presided over by former Republican Gov. George Ryan. He and a bunch of his GOP buddies ended up in the joint.

Ryan was succeeded by Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who campaigned on a pledge to clean up government — when what he actually meant was that he intended to use the levers of power to clean up.

The result was that Blagojevich and a bunch of his Democratic buddies went to prison. Indeed, Blagojevich is still behind bars, where he bitterly complains that he didn't do anything most politicians don't do. That statement may be more accurate than many of us would like to think.

The report outlines a litany of misconduct by appointed and elected officials.

One involves the long-standing corruption probe of Cook County Clerk Dorothy Brown, where the word is that prospective employees must fork over $10,000 to get a job in her office.

It's unclear when or if the feds actually will indict Brown. But they've already obtained convictions from associates in her office. Brown is so embarrassed by the probe that she recently announced her candidacy for mayor of Chicago.

The authors of the study based their conclusion on the number of convictions obtained by federal investigators. The study showed that from 1976 to 2016, there were 1,706 individuals convicted in the Northern District of Illinois (Cook County) while the entire state had "over 2,000 corruption convictions" during that time.

That has taken a toll on public confidence in government here. The report states a Gallup Poll shows that a nation-low 25 percent of Illinois residents have confidence in Illinois government.

That, of course, raises a serious question — what have they been smoking?

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.