Harvard Study Ranks Illinois Among Most Corrupt States


The state’s entrenched culture of cronyism is blindingly clear,
especially to those who report on it for a living.

Written by Brian Costin

As if Illinois’ illegal corruption problem wasn’t bad enough, a new Harvard University study ranks the state among the worst for “legal corruption” as well.

The study defines 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.”

Illinois is one of only seven states ranking in the top quartile in both corruption categories – illegal and legal. There are seven states ranking in the least corrupt quartile for both categories, including neighboring Michigan.


The study required reporters to score the three branches of their state government on a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 meaning corruption is “not common at all” and 5 meaning corruption is “extremely common.” Here’s how Illinois reporters scored the three branches of Illinois’ state government:

Illinois’ illegal-corruption scores by branch

Executive: 3 – moderately common

Legislative: 4 – very common

Judicial: 2 – slightly common

Illinois legal-corruption scores by branch

Executive: 4 – very common

Legislative: 5 – extremely common

Judicial: 3 – moderately common

Interestingly, Illinois reporters believe the state has a worse legal-corruption problem than an illegal-corruption problem. This is a nationwide trend, according to the study, but the perception in Illinois is certainly not unfounded. Through agencies like the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, state government gifts tens of millions of dollars in tax credits, grants and other benefits to politically connected businesses each year. The state’s entrenched culture of cronyism is blindingly clear, especially to those who report on it for a living.

To keep up with corruption across the state, be sure to follow Illinois Policy Institute’s Corruption Watch blog series and No Cronies campaign. To prevent it, get involved with the IPI’s Local Transparency Project.

Clearly, The Land of Lincoln needs all the watchdogs it can get.