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Measuring Corruption State by State

Also, the Ethics Commission boosts lawmakers' per diem rates for the upcoming session and punts on the propriety of staffers driving lawmakers to the Capitol and on personal errands.

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Everybody likes to talk about how corrupt his state government is, but is it possible to measure corruption? And if that’s the case, how do the states measure up against each other?

A new survey from Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics aims to answer those questions.

First things first, though: Texas comes in pretty close to the middle of the pack when comparing states on corruption.

Texas barely makes the list of most corrupt states when it comes to perceptions of illegal corruption, defined by the study as “private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups.”

On perceptions of legal corruption, defined as “political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups,” Texas makes neither the most nor the least corrupt lists.

The methodology behind the survey is also interesting. The survey’s authors note problems in using official government crime statistics to measure corruption, mainly because convictions rest often on resources and motivation of a local prosecutor.

Instead, the study’s authors chose to measure perceptions of corruption. To do so, they decided to survey state political reporters, who were chosen because they have “better knowledge of state governments and spend a great deal of time observing the government officials and interacting with them.”

In case you were wondering, Kentucky, Alabama, Illinois and New Jersey all ranked the highest on perceptions of legal and illegal corruption.

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The Texas Ethics Commission curtailed a proposed increase in lawmakers’ per diem allowances per a request from legislative leadership.

The agency was scheduled to consider a $60 bump in the supplemental salary from $150 to $210 at its meeting on Tuesday.

But commissioners chose to yield to a request from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus late last month to limit the new per diem to $190.

The per diem is supposed to cover food and other expenses for lawmakers while they are in Austin during session. For just the 140-day regular session, the pay bump would translate to an additional $5,600 in lawmakers' pockets. Legislators earn $7,200 per year, so this would make for a significant pay raise.

The increase could end up being worth more should lawmakers be called in for special sessions. Per diems are paid for those extra legislative days as well.

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In other Ethics Commission business, commissioners on Thursday took up the request of an anonymous Capitol staffer as to whether lawmakers can ask staff to drive them to the Capitol as well as for personal errands.

At the meeting, commissioners agreed there is a line to be drawn to prevent members using state resources, i.e. Capitol staffers’ time, for personal gain.

Commissioners, though, decided that such line drawing was more appropriately a job for lawmakers and left things there.

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