For the fourth year in a row, Chicago is America’s most corrupt city, and Illinois is the third-most corrupt state, according to a new report from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The report, published by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s political science department, is based on an analysis of the public corruption statistics published by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2021.
“Political and government-related bribery, extortion, fraud, conflicts of interest, theft of campaign funds, and tax cheating continue to undermine the public’s trust in government,” said Marco Rosaire Rossi, who authored the report with Thomas J. Gradel.
The report is the first to be issued after the retirement of former University of Illinois at Chicago professor and former 44th Ward Ald. Dick Simpson, who authored the annual report for 14 years.
The report uses a formula that compares the number of each area’s corruption convictions with its population to create a ranking system that incorporates data from 1976 to 2021. The Northern District of Illinois, essentially Chicago and its suburbs, remains a hot bed of corruption, even as federal corruption convictions have declined from an average of 61 per year in the 1990s to 28.5 per year between 2010 to 2019, according to the report.
In 2021, there were 32 public corruption convictions in the Northern District of Illinois, which includes all of Chicago and the northern third of Illinois — an increase from the 22 convictions recorded in 2020, according to the report.
“To end corruption, Illinois residents will need to elect better, more honest public officials and to press those in office to make meaningful changes such as greater regulation of conflicts of interest, more effective campaign finance rules, greater contract transparency and reforms to lobbying practices,” Rossi wrote in the report.
Illinois should foster an anti-corruption culture, rather than waiting for the Department of Justice to act, Rossi said.
Many of the corruption cases detailed by the report focus on two sprawling investigations that have ensnared dozens of politicians: the probe into Commonwealth Edison’s ties to former House Speaker Michael Madigan’s political operation and the investigation into whether elected officials accepted bribes as part of a push to install red-light cameras in the suburbs.
Madigan is set to stand trial in April on 22 criminal charges as part of a sweeping indictment that alleges he led a criminal enterprise whose purpose was to enhance his political power and financial wellbeing for nearly a decade. Madigan has pleaded not guilty.