Is Rhode Island the Most Corrupt State?

In the wake of New York Gov. David Paterson's latest scandal, The Economist said "Dysfunctional Albany…is frequently cited as the nation's worst state government—a title for which there is intense competition."

Rhode Island may not have the most corruption in absolute terms, but it deserves to win because of its debacles per capita. The state has slightly more than 1 million residents, but if you ask any of them to name the top five worst political scandals, they laugh. There are just too many.

Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, Providence's longest-serving mayor, is the most prominent example for outsiders. He returned to the state in May 2007, after serving more than four years in a federal prison for a racketeering-conspiracy conviction (in other words, running a criminal enterprise out of City Hall. Former governor Edward DiPrete also spent one year in jail after pleading guilty to 18 corruption charges that he took bribes from state contractors while in office. The Ocean State tradition of political scandal isn't limited to executive officers—just look at the legislature and court system. Former speaker of the House and chief justice of the state Supreme Court Joseph A. Bevilacqua resigned in 1986 during impeachment proceedings, in which investigators alleged that the then-judge had strong ties to the mob.

But the craziest tic about Rhode Island is not this list of corruption but the pervasive attitude of long-time, native residents. If a legislator or judge hires his son, cousin, or mistress for a state job that pays more than $100,000, people nod. Aw, they say, that's just the way business is done here.