Inside the Capitol

Saturday, December 13, 2008

12-17 Political Corruption in New Mexico?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexicans worry about political corruption in our state. In the past few years, we've seen two state treasurers and a state Senate president pro tem get jail time.
One of those treasurers is reported to have told a private money manager he was attempting to shake down "This is the way we do business in New Mexico."
So is that the way we do business in New Mexico? Are we really the most corrupt state in the nation as some of us like to say?
We now have some new evidence as a result of nationwide interest created by a comment from the head of the FBI's Chicago office who said, "If Illinois isn't the most corrupt state in the United States it's certainly one hell of a competitor."
The comment prompted water cooler conversations around the nation, as evidenced by several e-mails I received from people who googled "political corruption."
They found a column I wrote two years ago when 2006 GOP gubernatorial candidate John Dendahl moved to Colorado because he said New Mexico had become far too politically corrupt.
At the time, I was able to find a study from the late 1990s of public corruption convictions per 100 elected officials the federal government had won between 1986 and 1995.
New Mexico ranked slightly under the national average of two convictions per 100 elected officials. Colorado was slightly less corrupt than us.
Following up on the comment by the Chicago FBI official, USA Today updated the statistics I previously cited. They searched Department of Justice statistics from 1998 to 2007 and found that Illinois was only the 18th most corrupt state on a per capita basis.
New Mexico was one of the least corrupt with 1.5 convictions per 100,000 population during the 10-year period. Colorado was close behind at 1.6. Nebraska appeared to be the lowest of all at 0.7 convictions. It was the only one I found below 1.0 convictions.
On the other end, North Dakota ranked highest at 8.3 convictions, followed by Louisiana at 7.7 and Arkansas at 7.5. per 100,000 residents.
Obviously the methodology isn't perfect. The rankings of Louisiana and Arkansas probably aren't a surprise. But North Dakota as most corrupt, with South Dakota and Montana not far behind?
Maybe they are better at rooting out corruption. Maybe their U.S. attorneys are better prosecutors. Maybe their juries are more inclined to convict. And maybe using a per capita measure isn't completely fair. All states have some of the same public officials. But then, other small states ranked among the least corrupt.
Other confounding factors could be that corruption in some states may go undetected or be accepted. Also some corruption is prosecuted in state court. These two studies used U.S. Department of Justice statistics because that is much easier than contacting every state.
A possible explanation for North Dakota's ranking could be that it doesn't have much in the way of ethics laws to provide guidance to public officials and to set standards of behavior. If there is no state corruption law to break, the official has to be prosecuted under federal law and that is what this study measures.
Most states seem to be having the same trouble as New Mexico in getting ethics legislation passed. And the problem usually seems to be the same. It is logical that the legislation should apply to all three branches of government.
Legislatures are good about thinking the other two branches should be guided by ethics laws but not themselves. The New Mexico Senate is famous for arguing that it doesn't need it. That isn't likely to change much in the upcoming legislature despite the guilty plea from its former president pro tempore.
And there is the interesting argument over whether Democrats or Republicans are more corrupt. The answer is it depends on who is in power. Why bribe someone who can't do anything for you?
WED, 12-17-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



Post a Comment

<< Home