Researchers at Indiana University and the University of Hong Kong ranked Oklahoma the 11th most corrupt state in America.
John L. Mikesell, of Indiana, and Cheol Liu of Hong Kong, studied 25,000 convictions of public officials for violations of federal anti-corruption laws nationwide between 1976 and 2008.
Mississippi topped the most corrupt list, followed by Louisiana, Tennessee, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Alaska, South Dakota, Kentucky, and Florida.
Oregon ranked as the least corrupt state, followed by Washington, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Utah, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
“I don’t think anyone who has studied Oklahoma’s political history and culture will be surprised by this study’s findings,” said Andrew C. Spiropoulos, director of State Constitutional Law and Government at Oklahoma City University. “We have suffered from a historically high level of political corruption because of several factors. We are a relatively poor state, with limited economic opportunity in the private sector, making public money and jobs more important.”
The study includes the early 1980s, when Oklahoma courts convicted, or took guilty pleas, in a massive county commissioner scandal.
“We are also a state with a strong populist culture, in which politicians who, legitimately or not, use public power and resources to help out the little guy,” Spiropoulos said. “For a century, with few exceptions, we lived under one party rule, which provided few checks on those inclined to feed at the public trough.”
While some state analysts say things have improved in recent years, former Senate President Pro Temp Mike Morgan, Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahan, state Sen. Debbe Leftwich, all Democrats, and Republican state Rep. Randy Terrill, have been convicted of bribery since 2008.
“Given recent events in Oklahoma, it appears that parts of this corruption are still with us today,” said R. Keith Gadde, chairman of the political science department at the University Oklahoma.