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Study by the Center for Public Integrity Finds State Governments at Risk for Corruption…Surprise Surprise

Study by the Center for Public Integrity Finds State Governments at Risk for Corruption

An excellent study just released by the Center for Public Integrity finds state governments to be at risk for corruption — you can check out a WaPo article on the topic here

It is high time someone put a study like this together — while the findings of this study come as little surprise, I find its methodology to be quite convincing.

It goes without saying that any form of government is susceptible to corruption, and the best anyone can do is to try to control it.  State governments, however, tend to rely more on bureaucrats and those bureaucrats have on average less supervision that in a more complex system.  For example, in the federal system, Congress serves as a check on the power of agency bureaucrats — the idea of getting called before Congress for testimony is something most agency heads have nightmares about for sure. 

So we have state governments relying on unsupervised bureaucrats — certainly a recipe for corruption if there ever was one.

Take the example of Virginia.  Here, most of the real power rests in the hands of the General Assembly, both by design and by tradition. 

The design part is of course the Virginia Constitution, which firmly places the General Assembly in the drivers seat.  In many states the Governor serves as a powerful check, but not in Virginia.  In fact, because he or she is limited to a single term, the Governor is from day one a lame duck.    

Unlike the United States Congress, the General Assembly is in session only 60 or 90 days each year.  That gives the GA a crushing amount of work to do in such a short time, and it gives no time for supervising the agencies.    

And as readers of this blog are aware, we have the less-than-wonderful tradition of the single term Attorney General.  In many states the Attorney General serves as a powerful force to control corruption in state government agencies, but not here in Virginia.

Based upon my quick read of the article, the authors of this study seem to have left state false claims acts from their study, and I can see why.  Even an astute student of government might fail to see the connection between a state false claims act and government corruption.  But there is a connection. 

One of the things that contributes to state government corruption is that the corruption is what I call “a-typical corruption.”  What I mean by that is when we think of the word “corruption” in the government context, it typically implies favors being done for money or for other consideration in the legal sense. 

In layman’s terms, when we think of corruption we think of a person in government scratching the back of someone, and getting their back scratched in return.   It is worth noting also that most dictionary definitions of the term corruption include a reference to bribes, kickbacks, and other forms of payment. 

But in our state governments (and also in the federal government) my experience has been that there is not actually much of the typical type of corruption; and when it does occur it is, relatively speaking, easy to catch.  Transparency and other things will catch that type of corruption. 

That’s right ladies and gentlemen — money is only part of the reason why human beings do what they do. State government agencies are also susceptible to flattery, salesmanship, and other things that show no monetary return for the individual.

The other type of corruption is a-typical corruption, and that involves a state agency person doing a favor for an outside party with no form of compensation or consideration coming back the other way.   

There can be no question that a-typical corruption far outweighs typical corruption, and it is next to impossible to catch unless you have a state false claims act. 

More on this to follow, but congrats to the Center on an excellent, timely, and needed study….