The problem

Many state governments in the United States are riddled with corruption. Loopholes in ethics and open record laws, toothless enforcement of existing legislation, and opaque procurement processes are common. In consequence, in many states, local officials are beholden to lobbyists and corporations, public funds end up misspent, and key public services go undelivered.

The outcome

We worked with the Center for Public Integrity to map the extent of corruption risks in American states, and generate insights into what causes corruption, in order to help state-level reformers figure out how to address those causes, reduce corruption, and improve integrity.


Corruption plagues state governments across the United States. In recent years, politicians in states as different as Alabama, New York, and Oregon have been accused or convicted of corruption. What actions can reformers – civil society organizations, government officials, and citizens – take to stop scandals before they start? How can they identify corruption risks, and mitigate those risks before they turn into corruption?

Would-be-reformers often struggle to answer these questions. Mapping the root causes of corruption is challenging, and gathering, understanding, and using state-level data to systematically consider how to define and pursue ambitious reforms to improve integrity even more so. As a result, in many states, corruption remains unchecked, and the delivery of public services suffers as a result.

Our approach

The State Integrity Investigations – a joint endeavor of Global Integrity and the Center for Public Integrity – aimed to help reformers in government, civil society, and the general public better understand the unique constellation of corruption risks in their states, and provide evidence to inform action to mitigate those risks.

We consulted with nearly a hundred government integrity experts across the country, in order to better understand how we could most effectively measure corruption, in law and in practice, and generate actionable information that reformers could use to press for action in their states. We then worked with journalists, academics, and other local experts to collect granular data on each state, assessing both what laws were on the books to guard against corruption, and what actually happens in practice.

The richly researched, evidence-based scorecards we produced – our State Integrity Investigations – illustrated each state’s corruption profile, highlighting gaps between laws and practice, and providing signposts for reformers looking to understand what risks were present in their state, and how they might address them.

The outcome

Activists in at least 12 states – Missouri, New York, and Colorado, to name a few – used the information presented in the SII to press for policy change on issues as varied as campaign finance, conflict of interest regulations, and ethics. The SII was a vital cudgel for reformers seeking to minimize corruption, and improve government integrity at state level.

The SII is a good example of how Global Integrity has helped our partners dive into and unpack complex governance challenges, so that they can more effectively engage in action to address to those challenges. Our evolving work on governance assessments is even more problem-driven and action-oriented, built on supporting progress towards best-fit governance solutions, with a view towards generating the data that can help our partners take action, and learn, in real time.

Impact Story
Alan Hudson
Alan Hudson
November 8, 2018

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