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Survey of Reporters Finds South Dakota Among Least Corrupt States

South Dakota is one of the least corrupt states in America, says new research. Two profs analyzed the perceptions of 280 local reporters nationwide of how frequently government officials trade favors for endorsements, campaign contributions, or outright bribes.

When scores for both corruption measures were combined seven states — Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico and Pennsylvania — rose to the top as most corrupt, as mapped above. Meanwhile, eight states were deemed least corrupt. (They were Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.) [Niraj Chokshi, "A State Guide to Political Corruption, According to the Reporters Who Cover It," Washington Post: GovBeat, 2014.12.08].

This research runs counter to other studies that have found South Dakota third in public corruption convictions (two separate analyses), second for risk of corruption, sixth worst in campaign finance integrity, and eighth most corrupt as measured by convictions and government spending patterns.

South Dakota officials will likely spend great time and effort promoting this new and anomalous low corruption ranking. I pre-emptively balance that effort by pointing out these weaknesses in the new study:

  1. South Dakota is one of ten states from which the researchers received "relatively few responses." Less data means greater margin of error.
  2. The responses came from a self-selecting pool of 280 reporters out of 1,000 contacted. Self-selecting pools give less accurate results than randomly selected pools. (Of course, this could go either way: pesky muckrakers may be more likely to respond and skew the results negative... but then South Dakota may be underrepresented by having a fewer pesky muckrakers.)
  3. The survey deals with perceptions, not objective data. We can find outside observers who think South Dakota is a black hole of corruption.

The authors do not tell us which reporters or reporter responded for South Dakota. They probably did not talk to Denise Ross, who wrote up South Dakota's weak safeguards against corruption in 2012 for the Center for Public Integrity. The authors gathered their data before GOAC published its ridiculous and insulting whitewash of the EB-5 affair. But that any reporter in South Dakota can look at the evidence of corruption in the Attorney General's office and say, "Nope, no corruption happening here!" should make us question the effectiveness of our journalistic watchdogs.


  1. Tim 2014.12.09

    A bogus report, just the kind of thing the GOP will grab and say, see we told you, nothing to see here, now move along.

  2. Dan Daily 2014.12.09

    I disagree with reporters. MSNBC reported this year that South Dakota was 2nd most corrupt state with Georgia number one. Realistically, SD is number one given incidents relative to population. EB-5 is strong evidence. The whole matter of the Sioux Falls Events Center is more. Contracts were awarded before there was a vote or location.

  3. Vickie 2014.12.09

    Obviously they have not really been paying attention nor have they actually been here.

  4. Wayne Pauli 2014.12.09

    The study is based on those that were "caught". Apparently our politicians are just smarter than other States. Years ago my Dad(rest his soul) told me that there was no right or wrong in South Dakota, just the caught and the uncaught. Obviously based on this Harvard study once again he was correct.

    Years ago my Uncle (also rest his soul) was moving from Portland to Winner, SD (back home). He was going to build a restaurant in Winner. He got his permits, and the building started going up. What an awesome time for our family. Winner was booming at that time and we knew Uncle Joe would do a great job. Well, the foundation was in place, and then all of a sudden the building was stopped . Long story not so long, he ended up having to abandon his dream of a restaurant in Winner because the SDDOT had determined that they were going to build a highway through that parcel of ground. Of course one of the big GOP supporters owned a restaurant in Winner on the West end of town. Fast forward 50 years, the guy who stopped my uncle's dream had been murdered (get this, by a guy named Bill lie, like William Cody from the wild west, just not the Buffalo Bill), my uncle lived out his years and was very successful in the restaurant business in Omaha, and on the site of where my uncle had started to build is a...wait for it...McDonalds...The road never was changed. Yes, the caught and the uncaught is correct.

  5. Jenny 2014.12.09

    Isn't this a joke, Harvard study also. Corruption is hard to detect when there are closed records laws.

  6. jerry 2014.12.09

    I remember the guy you speak of Wayne Pauli. Drove a big ole car and carried silver around in this trunk for traction in the snow. Key word also is "conviction" in this report. When you have Marty Jackley at the helm, you are not going to see many perp walks.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.09

    Fascinating history, Wayne!

    Note that Pat Powers doesn't offer the GOP response we might have expected. He at least recognizes he can't embrace this one study and reject all the rest. But he doesn't take the time to develop an intelligent position... probably because intelligent analysis won't lead him to any conclsuion that favors his GOP sponsors. He merely suggests that maybe we need a study of studies.

  8. Bill Fleming 2014.12.09

    I have a personal history with Bill Cody that I will relate in more detail sometime if anyone's interested.

    Suffice it for now to say that the last time I saw him was maybe 30 years ago when I was helping my friend (poet/playwright) Craig Volk (brother of David) design an anthology of prison poems and artwork at the SD Penitentiary in Sioux Falls.

    Bill Cody was running the print shop there and I had to "negotiate" with him on how the book was to be printed. So that day Wild Bill Cody was "caught" and had to stay behind bars while "Wild Bill Fleming" got to walk out into the sunshine. Spooky times. I'd almost forgotten them. Small world.

    p.s. related but on another thread, notice the name "Jim Soyer" on Cory's list of English majors who work for the Governor. Jim, Bill Cody and I all worked together on the "Black Hills Magazine" in Rapid City way back when we were all young pups along with a handful of other semi-notorious Black Hills characters ;-)

  9. Wayne Pauli 2014.12.09

    that is the guy Jerry. supposedly have all kinds of cash and precious metals with him all the time. a very gruesome murder sceen in his office/apartment in west Winner. big oil guy in his day. Very cool that you and Bill know who and what I am talking about.

    Bill, you worked with Wild Bill..very small world.

  10. jerry 2014.12.09

    Yep, what I saw in that trunk had to be at least a few hundred pounds of silver ingots and sacks of coins. He was pretty loose in speaking of it as well, like he was kind of daring folks to try to steal it, or he just did not care. He did own a pretty good eatery though as I remember.

  11. Bill Fleming 2014.12.09

    If I recall, Cody was trying to talk the Winner guy into being an investor in a new company he had started after the magazine and ad agency we all worked for went belly-up. The guy wouldn't go for it so he beat him up with a baseball bat. Killed his dog too. Cody was always running out of money.

    Before the murder, I'd left the magazine/ad agency and bought into a little printing company. Cody started some strange business thing called "Energy" or something...

    I did a logo, stationary and brochure design and print job for him, and he was stiffing me on paying for it, so I went over to his apartment, grabbed the print job, and took it out to my car. He got in front of me for a minute and said "Bill, you don't want to do this." I just kind of walk/bumped into him, moved on by and went to my car, yelling back, "I'll keep 'em. When you can pay for 'em you can have 'em back."

    Obviously, I had no idea who I was messin' with.

    Pretty wild, when a few years later, I had to work with him in the prison print shop. The inmates all told me "their printer" was a real hard guy to get along with but didn't tell me his name. I told them not to worry, I'd had lots of experience with ornery printers.

    Then we all went down to the prison print shop and met Mr. Cody doing his new gig. He remembered me, and I him, but he was very cordial, and we printed a nice book together. The title (remember, it's written and illustrated by inmates) was "Momma Said There'd Be Days Like This. (But She Never Said There'd Be Years Of It.)"

  12. Wayne Pauli 2014.12.10

    thanks for sharing, Bill. I was a 22 year old banker in Colome (10 miles SE of Winner) when the murder took place. one of my good friends was a transport driver for Brown Oil. The crime shook things up quite a bit in the Winner area. Ed was a "colorful" individual back in a time of many colorful people in our area.

  13. Douglas Wiken 2014.12.10

    There are more than a few people around here in Winner still convinced that Bill Janklow and another of his cohorts may have been involved in the murder or theft at least. I don't really know, but I am nearly certain that whatever police inspection was done was nearly certainly botched.

    One other story about the Browns. A local lawyer here who can remain nameless was a coffee/booze drinking friend of Brown. One day they came up with the idea of a weight loss contest. Daily weight checks and then a final weight check after two weeks or whatever was the time.

    It appeared that Brown was on the way to winning the bet in a walk. Every time they weighed, he was loosing more than the lawyer. At the final weighing, the lawyer took the lead shot out of his pockets and Brown lost some money.

    Unfortunately, corruption of the kind mixing the connected with business here is still unfortunately healthy. It is a factor in the lousy economic opportunities for honest folks.

  14. Douglas Wiken 2014.12.10

    More seriously, Kevin Wooster was just on SDPB-Radio more or less pooh-poohing the idea that SD is a corrupt state. Today, I also got a three-day old RC Journal with a column in which it was said that corporate control of media prevents real investigation and vigorous discussion.

  15. Bill Dithmer 2014.12.10

    I remember both Cody and the Brown your talking about. For years if you wanted to find Boss Brown you had to go to the only fulltime restaurant other then Sargents in Winner, and that would have been the Westside.

    I have never heard the silver in the trunk story but it doesnt suprise me. I was only around Cody a few times but he always was showing people something that he found or bought. He liked to drink but was bad at it. I sure would like to hear the story about the possible connection between the murder and Junklow.

    You have to remember that Winner was a different place back then. Strippers every night, and you could find a card game anytime you felt like you had to much money.
    If I remember right, things didnt change until a high ranking state officer was caught in an after hours sting at the Pheasant Bar. It took exactly one week for that to go through the news cycle and then all was forgotten. Partying in Winner was never the same after that. And when they legalized pay to hunt all the hunters stopped spending money in town because they could get what they wanted at a lodge.

    Man those were the days.

    The Blindman

  16. Bill Fleming 2014.12.10

    Cody used to do a kind of hypnosis/magic show. Maybe he did them at the Winner joint? Used to have a trick where an assistant (I think her name was Liz) shot a pistol at him and he caught the bullet in his teeth.

    He was also really strange to have a conversation with. None of the women in the office liked it very much because he would always stare right into their eyes and never divert his gaze, like he was trying to put the whammy on them or something.

    I used to stare back and we'd have these stare offs to see who would show some kind of emotion first. We didn't do it very much because you know... gay and stuff (not that that makes you a bad person.) It was only later that I learned that's kind of a Zen exercise.

  17. Wayne Pauli 2014.12.10

    the back room poker games were famous. there was a circuit that the big players were on. Winner,
    Presto, and Onida. it was a spectator sport. I saw many ranchers throw down their fall calf check that they had just picked up at the Winner Livestock Auction. game of chance. my mom sold milk out of our bulk tank for .60 a gallon. she saved the money and when she had enough the quarters were for steaks at the Legion and the dimes were fo r the slot machines.

    you are correct Bill, when a high ranking official got caught playing blackjack the fun and games ceased. dancing girls at every bar.

    a new Sargents is running now Garnet sold out years ago, she is aging gracefully, but is still Garnet. Of course Kenny is long gone and now my sister-in-law, she is married to Garnet's oldest son has a Sargent's in the building that was once the VFW. oh the stories of Winner, so colorful and for the most part, true.

  18. Wayne Pauli 2014.12.10

    Presho...sorry, my iPad does not like that word

  19. jerry 2014.12.10

    How about when the high flying attorney general of the state got busted for gambling in a sting his law enforcement people knew nothing about. The next week, the brothels at Deadwood were shut down.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.10

    Douglas, I'm disappointed to hear Woster poo-poo what seems so obvious to us. A reporter who doesn't think there is corruption is less likely to look for it.

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.11

    Jerry! Great article on "Winnergate", the Meierhenry and Volk arrests in 1979 for shooting craps in Winner. The end of that article suggests that the South Dakota press was raising a fuss over what happened... although it sounds like the Governor and Legislature stonewalled, and the story faded. No action was ever taken, was it?

    p.s.: Did you notice the article right below that one? In 1979, someone in Wisconsin proposed requiring politic candidates to pass a civics test. The bill died quickly. That gets me wondering: should we require our Pierre beat reporters to pass a South Dakota civics test? (Not that we need more barriers to entry to a profession already on the ropes.)

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