California Historical Society/USC Digital Archives
Photograph of an exterior view of Los Angeles City Hall illuminated at night, [s.d.].
Is Southern California one of the most corrupt regions in the country? Yes, if you take the contents of a new study from the University of Illinois at face value.
The study, spearheaded by professor Dick Simpson and his colleagues, ranked Southern California as the second-most corrupt city in the county, second only to Illinois. The yardstick for corruption was federal convictions for extortion, bribery, conflicts of interest and election crimes involving elected officials, government workers and private citizens.
"There's always been a long, long history of corruption and bending the law in the Southland,” said veteran journalist Bill Boyarsky. “This area is so vast there's so much going on that the corruption hasn't been shown-up yet."
Though Los Angeles has seen its fair share of corruption over the years, Simpson notes that Southern California’s high – meaning low – ranking in this study has a lot to do with the huge population in the assessment; the study included not just L.A. County, but also Riverside, Orange, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and San Bernardino Counties.
"Los Angeles is not the second-most corrupt city in the country,” said Raphael Sonenshein of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at CSU Los Angeles. “We have much higher standards out here, there's a lot of influence peddling, we have unpleasant elected officials who annoy us, but I wouldn't put that in the same category.”
In addition, when the statistics are broken down to per capita rankings , L.A. improves to ninth place. So, with 1,275 federal convictions in the greater L.A.-area since 1976 (to Chicago's 1,531), Southern California takes the file-in-the-cake award.
So maybe we’re not actually as corrupt as this study implies, after all, but there’s still hope, according to Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez: "We cannot accept this, folks. With just a little more effort, I think we can knock Chicago off the top of the leader board."
Are you surprised to hear that Southern California is the second most politically corrupt region in the U.S.? What can be done to hamper corruption among government officials?
Bill Boyarsky, author; journalist; former senior consultant, Center for Governmental Studies; He served as Vice President of the Los Angeles City Ethics
Raphael Sonenshein, Executive Director for the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at CSU Los Angeles