Houston beats out New Orleans, Boston, and Sacramento in public corruption convictions, according to a recent study published by the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The study comes on the heels of a high-profile conviction of a Houston public official. Houston Community College Trustee Chris Oliver was ordered earlier this year to surrender to a federal prison in Louisiana to serve out his nearly six year sentence after he pleaded guilty to bribery (See our HCC series for coverage).
In court, Oliver outlined a culture of corruption that he suggested permeated the college system, one of the largest in the United States.
“The line is definitely blurred,” Oliver said. “You don’t come from wealth. You’re in an elected position. Things are thrown at you. They make things attractive.”
Oliver acknowledged in court that between 2009 and 2016 he received 69 bribe payments totaling more than $225,000 from no fewer than four people seeking contracts with HCC.
Oliver was targeted by the Southern District of Texas, based in Houston, it ranks 11 in public corruption convictions. Chicago ranks number one.
The study examined cases between 1976 and 2016.
Texas has more total public corruption convictions than Illinois, according to the study.
From the study:
On a per capita basis, Illinois remains the third most corrupt state compared to all 50 states and the District of Columbia. While New York, California, Texas, and Florida each have more total public corruption convictions than Illinois, their populations are much larger than Illinois’.
Therefore, they rank lower than Illinois on a per capita basis. Washington D. C. has the most public corruption convictions per capita, primarily because the population in the District is comparably so low, but also because it is the center of the national government where the Department of Justice is headquartered.
Louisiana, which also has a much lower population than Illinois, ranks second on a per capita basis. It is another state, like Illinois, with a long history of control by a corrupt political machine. Louisiana has been dominated by a corrupt Democratic Party Machine going back to before the days of Huey Long.
The study, which examined convictions between 1976 and 2016, looked only at federal corruption convictions, It did not examine local and state corruption convictions.
The Texas piece of the study did not shock University of Houston Political Science Professor Brandon Rottinghaus, who has written a book on political scandals.
“In some ways, it’s not surprising giving the kinds of predictors of these kinds of corruption scandals,” he said. “We’re in a state that is large, spends money on public infrastructure and is booming population-wise, which necessitates more spending.
And that means that some in government — especially those not making a large salary — have more opportunities to accept bribes from a contractor who wants one of those projects, he said.
“States that are booming economically and adding new people as rapidly as Texas are going to have these kinds of scandals,” Rottinghaus said.
Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.