Chicago has again earned the distinction of being the nation's "corruption capital," according to a report from the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
The Chicago-based U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois saw 1,642 public corruption convictions from 1976 through 2013, the most among the 16 top federal judicial districts, the report issued last week found.
At the state level, the UIC report ranked Illinois third for the most public corruption convictions per capita over the 38-year period, behind California and New York. From 1976 to 2013, there were 1,982 public corruption convictions in Illinois, 2,549 in California and 2,657 in New York.
The U.S. Department of Justice started collecting public corruption figures in 1976 and recently issued the figures for 2013, during which the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois reported 45 public corruption convictions. The Chicago-based federal judicial district includes 18 counties, including Cook County.
Of the nation's 16 top federal judicial districts, the Los Angeles-based U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ranked second and the Manhattan-based U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ranked third for the most public corruption convictions from 1976 through 2013.
The judicial district and state rankings are the same as they were in the UIC political science department's 2012 public corruption report, which was based on figures from 1976 through 2010.
"All of the corruption in Chicago and Illinois has real costs -- hard dollar costs and intangible costs," the report reads.
Report co-authors and political experts Dick Simpson and Thomas Gradel estimate that public corruption in Illinois costs at least $500 million each year.
But the biggest price of public corruption, the researchers say, "is the loss of faith in the fairness and honesty of government."
"If people believe the fix is in and all politicians are crooked, they won't report corruption," the report states. "They may stop voting because they don't believe things will change. If they distrust the police, they won't cooperate with investigators. This lack of faith, or cynicism, is a major contributing factor to why Chicago continues to be both the murder capital and the corruption capital of the nation."
As for ways to tackle public corruption in Illinois and Chicago, the report recommends eight key reform steps:
1) Demand more transparency and accountability;
2) Hire more inspectors general, including suburban inspectors general;
3) Provide a new program of civic education in schools by passing the law pending in the state
4) Encourage more citizen participation in government and politics by moving the date of the primary;
5) Adopt public financing for political campaigns;
6) Elect better public officials;
7) Change how we remap legislative districts and adopt term limits for elected officials; and
8) End political machines and change Illinois' culture of corruption.
"To end corruption, society needs to do more than convict the guys that get caught," Simpson said. "A comprehensive anti-corruption strategy must be forged and carried out over at least a decade. A new political culture in which public corruption is no longer tolerated must be created."