Since the release of a Harvard study in 2014, in which Arizona was found to be one of the most corrupt states in the country, little has changed. Currently, Arizona’s three branches of government appear to be unwilling to do the hard work of oversight that could change the dire situation.
The Fourth Estate’s mission is to serve as the check on corrupting power, but it has become partisan and sloppy. The members of the press appear content to rely on rumors and spew out the hand fed stories created out of whole cloth by flacks who are hoping to protect their bosses from flack.
Under the current conditions, it is those people not in power who are being held to account, while the powerful buy a pass with tawdry tidbits about underlings for public consumption by the likes of Arizona Republic readers.
With every statewide elected office held by members of the GOP, and the State Legislature controlled by the GOP, too often the news is based on the petty bickering of warring factions, and sound bites from inconsequential democrats eager to be somebody. As a result, hyperbolic headlines sit above articles filled with little substance and a lot of innuendo.
As noted by James Alt and David Lassen in their 2008 article; Political and Judicial Checks on Corruption: Evidence From American State Governments, “Institutional separation of powers does not always imply a functional separation of powers if institutional actors can collude, something for which political parties provide a natural forum.”
Because Arizona’s loyal opposition has been too often too loyal to the corrupt elements of the Republican power structure, voters have no reason to turn to them in elections. Case in point, one Democrat senator squealed when fellow lawmaker, Rep. Ceci Velasquez was successfully prosecuted for welfare fraud.
The same senator was gleeful when DES director Tim Jeffries, was forced out by Governor Doug Ducey because Jeffries had the temerity to expect that all guilty parties pay for the transgressions.
That same senator was silent however when Arizona’s corrupt Attorney General’s Office shut down an investigation into one of the biggest campaign contributors to a number democrat lawmakers for massive Medicaid fraud. Perhaps because both Democratic representatives and the governor have benefitted from their associations with the alleged massive Medicaid fraudster, silence was to be expected.
“Illegal” and “legal” corruption
The Harvard study concluded that Arizona had the highest instance of illegal corruption. Researchers 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. It is the form of corruption that attracts a great deal of public attention.”
The Harvard researchers found that Arizona did a little bit better in terms of “legal” corruption. Researchers 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.”
Both forms are insidious and when those “specific benefits” take the form of a get-out-of-jail-free card, or looking the other way, there is virtually no way to stop corrupt practices.
Over the next week, we will examine the current corrupt structures and the players.