Per capita, Louisiana is the most corrupt state, followed by Mississippi. New York drops to No. 11 on the list, and California falls to 34th. The least corrupt states are Washington and Oregon.
This way of measuring corruption also has problems. Remember, these are only federal crimes. Plenty of corruption falls outside the purview of U.S. authorities. Some acts are technically legal but clearly unethical. We don’t know how many corrupt officials are never caught. And as Oguzhan Dincer and Michael Johnston of Harvard University’s Center for Ethics detail, prosecutors have a lot of leeway in what they investigate.
That’s why Dincer and Johnston surveyed 280 state political reporters to ask them how corrupt they thought the branches of their state governments were. They asked them about illegal corruption (“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”) and legal corruption (“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).”
Aggregating their results across the branches and for both legal and illegal corruption, Kentucky emerges as the most corrupt state.