The Journal of Politics


“I Seen My Opportunities and I Took 'Em:” Political Corruption in the American States

Kenneth J. Meiera1 and Thomas M. Holbrooka1

a1 University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee


This study is an empirical examination of political corruption in the American states. Using the number of public officials who are convicted of crimes involving corruption as the dependent variable, four explanations of corruption are examined—historical/cultural, political, structural, and bureaucratic. We find that corruption is associated with historical/cultural forces, political forces (especially turnout and party competition), and bureaucratic forces (government size and policies that increase bribe opportunities). Structural factors (e.g., campaign finance reporting requirements, centralization, direct democracy) are unrelated to the incidence of corruption. Finally, the study shows some evidence that prosecution of corrupt public officials was subject to partisan and racial targeting during the Reagan administration and racial targeting during the Carter administration.

(Accepted December 14 1989)

(Received January 03 1991)

Kenneth J. Meier is professor of political science, University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI 53201.

Thomas M. Holbrook is assistant professor of political science, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI 53201.