Illegal and Legal Corruption
As stated in last week’s blog post, Pennsylvania is often ranked in the top ten of the most corrupt states in America! At least two surveys¹ rank Pennsylvania as the fifth most corrupt state in the fifty states.²
A particular in-depth study³ by the Harvard University Ethics Center entitled “Measuring Illegal and Legal Corruption in American States: Some Results from the Corruption in America Survey,” is most revealing. The Harvard study includes the following definitions:
“We define illegal corruption as 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.”
“We define legal corruption as the 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.”
According to the Harvard study, illegal corruption and legal corruption are examples and part of a larger form of corruption known as “institutional corruption,” which Lawrence Lessig⁴ has defined as follows:
Institutional corruption “is manifest when there is a systemic and strategic influence which is legal, or even currently ethical, that undermines the institution’s effectiveness by diverting it from its purpose or weakening its ability to achieve its purpose, including, to the extent relevant to its purpose, weakening either the public’s trust in that institution or the institution’s inherent trustworthiness.”
Though we will focus today on Harvard’s rankings of illegal and legal corruption in Pennsylvania, we will soon return to the more relevant issue of institutional corruption at the PASSHE system of fourteen universities, which include Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.
We will then explore Lessig’s definition as it applies to the institutional corruption that is undermining PASSHE’s effectiveness by diverting it from its Act 188 statutory purpose(essentially by ignoring it), or weakening its ability to achieve its purpose, which is to provide “High quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students” (by espousing and brazenly pursuing a totally different purpose in its strategic plan, which focuses on the system rather than the students, as called for by law).
The source of PASSHE’s institutional corruption is found not in the 14 universities but rather in PASSHE’s fifteen governance bodies—especially the Board of Governors and to a lesser extent in the fourteen Councils of Trustees—which operate principally to advance political rather than educational goals.
Corruption Begins With Conspiracy
As noted in the Harvard study, it is difficult to even measure corruption—much less prosecute it after the fact or prevent it before the fact—because by its very nature it is always conducted in secret!
But even before corruption can occur, the individuals involved must first engage in a “conspiracy,” which is also conducted in secret. Findlaw.com defines conspiracy by saying that it exists “when two or more people agree to commit almost any unlawful act, and then take some action toward its completion.”
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
Because of the inherent difficulty in documenting something which those involved in conspiracy and corruption are taking great pains to keep secret, a number of different measures of corruption have been implemented over the years to produce the various published rankings of State corruption.
One measure of corruption used by the Department of Justice is the number of national prosecutions. The DOJ reports that “in the last two decades more than 20,000 public officials and private individuals have been convicted for crimes related to corruption and more than 5,000 are awaiting trial.”
The number of corruption convictions, based on a “beyond-a-reasonable-doubt” standard, would seem to account for only the tiny tip of a very large iceberg, meaning that the 25,000 figure cited by the DOJ might actually imply that the number of actual corruption perpetrators who remain un-convicted, or even un-prosecuted, could easily be 100 times larger, amounting to 2.5 million individuals or more.
A better measure of corruption may be obtained from surveys to reporters who cover the institutions and the officials who are in a position to engage in corruption. The Harvard study was done by means of such a survey for the reason that “Reporters have a better knowledge of state governments and spend a great deal of time observing the state officials and interacting with them.”
The Harvard Study “Corruption Report Card” employed a five-point scale as follows: 1) Not at all common; 2) Slightly common; 3) Moderately common; 4) Very common; and 5) Extremely common
Pennsylvania’s “Corruption” Report Card
Illegal Corruption: Executive Branch (2.5 - Between slightly common and moderately common); Legislative Branch (4 - Very common); and Judicial Branch (2 - Slightly common).
Legal Corruption: Executive Branch (3 - Moderately common); Legislative Branch (4.5 - Between very common and extremely common); Judicial Branch (3 - Moderately common).
The Harvard Study concludes with listings of the “Most Corrupt” and “Least Corrupt” states in America.
When it comes to Illegal Corruption, Pennsylvania is ranked as one of the six Most Corrupt States.
When it comes to Legal Corruption, Pennsylvania is ranked as one of the seven Most Corrupt States.
To be continued.