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How does Oregon keep itself so clean?

We talked in June about a study by Indiana University and the City University of Hong Kong that ranked the U.S. states from least to most corrupt, with Mississippi scoring worst and Oregon as best. A couple of weeks ago, Reid Wilson of the Washington Post asked how Oregon does it.

Over a period of 32 years, he said, “there were fewer corruption convictions in Oregon than in any other state, when controlling for the number of state workers.”

So what’s Oregon’s approach? Here’s what Wilson came up with:

Robust transparency laws. Oregon’s rules for campaign finance disclosures are among the toughest in the country.

Limited gift giving. Lobbyists and special interest groups can’t give gifts worth more than $50 to state employees, Wilson said.

No no-bid contracts. Oregon requires most public-improvement contracts to be awarded based on competitive bidding.

“An awful lot of corruption comes from government contracts,” Melanie Sloan told Wilson. She’s a former federal prosecutor who now runs Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“You can’t have no-bid contracts. You have to have transparent contracting procedures,” Sloan said.

It sounds too simple but the fundamentals done well always work. Throwing, hitting, fielding.

Between 2003 and 2012, Wilson said, more than 7,000 state and local officials across the United States were charged with corruption, according to the DOJ’s 2013 report to Congress.

“The U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia reported 336 federal convictions over that time period,” Wilson said. “New Jersey’s U.S. attorney reported 428 convictions; and the four U.S. attorneys who oversee Texas reported 775 convictions. By contrast, Oregon registered just 42 convictions during that period.”

The most corrupt states — Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee — registered more than four times more convictions than the least-corrupt states.

“Those states should look to Oregon,” Wilson said, “home of the most honest government workers in the country.”

Just keep it simple.

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

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