Last updated on 2014.11.18
Back in March, we learned that South Dakota ranks second for risk of government corruption and third for public corruption convictions. Now the Los Angeles Times reports that two researchers have found a correlation between government corruption and geographic isolation of state capitals. The most corrupt capitals identified in this study: Jackson, Baton Rouge, Nashville, Springfield, Albany, and Pierre.
Why would geographical isolation correlate with government corruption? Well, when's the last time you saw me take a day off work to drive out to Pierre to cover a Legislative hearing?
..."in states where the population is more concentrated around the capital," the study found "more intense media coverage of state politics, and therefore greater accountability."
For example, they noted, newspapers in Massachusetts, where Boston, is the capital and by far the state's largest city, cover state government more than do newspapers in New York, where Albany is a relative backwater.
"It stands to reason that when citizens are better able to monitor the performance of public officials and punish those who do misbehave, there will be less scope for the latter to misuse their office for private gain," the researchers wrote [David Lauter, "Study Shows Isolation May Lead to Corrupt State Capitals," Los Angeles Times, 2012.05.23].
Media scrutiny is an important check on government shenanigans. And even in states with less isolated capitals, the media are cutting back on that scrutiny:
The relationship between newspaper coverage and corruption has another troubling implication. In the past decade, the number of reporters covering state capitals has dropped sharply — a reduction of more than 30% between 2003 and 2009, according to a census by the American Journalism Review. If less coverage leads to more corruption, those staff cutbacks should provide plenty of work for prosecutors in years to come [Lauter, 2012.05.23].
The Campante and Do working paper points to another salient correlate of having your state capital out in the middle of nowhere: states with more isolated capitals tend to spend less and perhaps achieve lower outcomes on public goods like education and health care.
Hmm... maybe it's time to expand the "Capital for a Day" program to something a bit meatier. Maybe we need to put state government on the road and have it meet for six months in Sioux Falls and six months in Rapid City, so the press can watch it more closely.