Study ranks Florida No. 1 in government corruption
Story by William March
An upcoming study by the new Integrity Florida watchdog group says Florida leads the nation in government corruption.
The study will be the second major production of Integrity Florida, a public interest watchdog group in Tallahassee.
The study, to be released in about a week, will show that Florida had 781 federal corruption convictions from 2000 to 2010, the most of any state, executive director Dan Krassner told the Tampa Tribune editorial board.
In five of the last 12 years, the study shows, Florida led all states in at least one category: It had the most criminal convictions among people in government.
Florida's lead is partly because of its size, Krassner said, but the numbers are still disproportionate.
"We're the fourth-largest state, soon to be the third-largest, and it makes sense that we'd be up there," he said.
But the two largest, California and Texas, each led in only three of the last 12 years, compared with Florida's five.
Zealous prosecution doesn't explain the numbers, either, Krassner said, noting the state Commission on Ethics doesn't have authority to launch its own investigations.
Ethics commission executive director Virlindia Doss said she can't judge whether the figures mean Florida is the nation's most corrupt state.
"I wouldn't be able to interpret the meaning of those numbers any more capably than anybody else who reviewed them," Doss said. "It's like any kind of data — it's hard to know what's causation and what's just correlation."
In other words, it's not clear whether the numbers are a result of ethics problems specific to Florida or simply coincidence.
The study looked at convictions won by the Public Integrity section of the U.S. Department of Justice, a data source that allows for state-by-state comparisons.
The cases included elected and appointed officials and staff, and most involved local government officials, who outnumber state government officials.
The recent conviction of former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White on bribery and corruption charges is an example but isn't included in the study results because it was too recent, Krassner said.
The figures do include the convictions of four Palm Beach County commissioners on corruption charges from 2006 to 2010 — events that earned the county the title of "capital of Florida corruption" from Time magazine.
A University of Illinois study recently ranked Florida fourth in corruption from 1976-2010, but there's apparently been an upward trend, Krassner said.