Columns » Bob McCord

Poor, but not corrupt


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It was a pleasant surprise the other day when the Corporate Crime Reporter in Washington released a study that showed that Arkansas is one of the 10 least corrupt states in the United States. Nebraska has the least corruption, followed in order by Oregon, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, Utah, Minnesota, Arizona, Arkansas and Wisconsin. The 10 most corrupt states are Mississippi, North Dakota, Louisiana, Alaska, Illinois, Montana, South Dakota, Kentucky, Florida and New York. Arkansas's other neighboring states ranked as follows: Missouri 18, Tennessee 19, Oklahoma 22 and Texas 29. The Corporate Reporter arrived at these standings by taking the number of public corruption convictions in federal courts from 1993 to 2002 per 100,000 population. Statistics of state-court convictions aren't available, but more than 80 percent of corruption cases in the U.S. are tried in federal courts. Russell Mokhiber, who runs the Corporate Reporter, acknowledged that the lineup might have changed in two years. Examples: The governor of Connecticut is currently mixed up in a corruption scandal and three mayors and the state treasurer are in jail or heading to jail. Three Louisiana insurance commissioners have gone to jail, and the former governor of Illinois is now accused of awarding contracts to people who have given him money, gifts and loans. Frankly, I wouldn't have guessed that Arkansas was in the top 10, when you read allegations about the cops with hand-outs in West Memphis, the two aldermen bypassing laws in Pine Bluff, a prosecuting attorney in Independence County accused of keeping people out of jail who would give him their property, etc. Then, of course, nationally there are people who think that Arkansas is full of unscrupulous people - an impression given by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, who spent five years trying to send as many Arkansans to jail as possible. After reading about the corruption study, Larry Jegley, Pulaski County's prosecuting attorney, said he was glad for Arkansas to get some good publicity. However, he said that Arkansas prosecuting attorneys are aware of the "willful blindness" of corruption and work closely with the U.S. attorney's office. Jegley points out that his office sent a secretary of state to prison, convicted the county's treasurer for taking interest off county funds and was instrumental in federal lawyers convicting state Sen. Nick Wilson. U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins says he was a little doubtful that Arkansas ought to be among the top 10. "I don't think it's really a good way to measure corruption," he said. He thinks Arkansans aren't too quick to go after corruption - especially elected politicians. "A high level of tolerance exists," he said. Mokhiber would agree with that. In the announcement of his organization's study, he said: "Connecticut, for example, has a strong economy and an educated citizenry. But its political economy has been historically weak. We need not just strong economies, but strong political economies - reporters, citizen groups, prosecutors, judges, religious leaders - who are willing to speak out about rampant corruption." ***** The gun lobbyists have been working overtime in Washington, but to everyone's surprise on Tuesday morning the Senate decided to renew the law that bans the sale of military-type assault weapons and to plug the loophole that allows anybody to buy any kind of a gun at a gun show without background checks or registration. The bills became amendments to the major goal of the gun lobbyists -- a bill, already passed by the House, that would prevent someone who got shot from suing gun manufacturers and dealers. Naturally, this bill is more important than any of the others because it gives the companies and the store owners a protection that no other businesses have in this country. The National Rifle Association bought two frantic, full-page ads in national newspapers this week that say: "The Fight to Rescue America's Firearms Industry Has Become a Fight to Rescue Your Firearms Freedom" and "Why America's Firearms Industry Must be Rescued from Extinction." Well, an hour or so after the amendments passed so easily, the NRA lobbyists got busy and told, not asked, their Senator pals to vote no on the gun manufacturers bill because they hated the two amendments. So in mid afternoon, the Senate voted 90 to 8 against what was once NRA's favorite bill. Let us remember that the NRA is funded by the people who make, sell and shoot guns. And none of them need to get teary-eyed because the bill will soon be back in new form with no distasteful amendments. Republicans will see to it - Republicans like Majority Leader Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee one of the few physicians I ever heard of who thinks the gun makers have a right to sell a gun to everyone who wants one. Speaking of gun makers, there was an interesting story this week about Smith & Wesson, the second largest gun manufacturer in the nation. Its board chairman, James J. Minder, resigned when it was revealed that he had spent 15 years in Michigan prisons after confessing to eight armed robberies of stores and banks. He often carried a sawed-off shotgun, according to the Wall Street Journal. Maybe he just forgot that the law says convicted felons can't own firearms. By the way, he's going to stay on the board.


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