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Making Corruption a Progressive Priority

David Callahan

Progressives are endlessly disappointed by opinion polls that show that a large majority of Americans don't trust government. Indeed, public trust in government is now at a historic low.

One explanation of that distrust is that conservatives have been beating up on government for thirty years, and certainly that is true. Ever since Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address that government is "not the solution to our problem; government is the problem," the right has been engaged in a relentless attack on the public sector. Not a day goes by without some organ of the conservative establishment bashing a government agency or public sector workers themselves. Even school teachers are now targets.

Of course, though, there is another -- less convenient -- reason why the public distrusts government. And that's because they should distrust a public sector that, in fact, really is quite corrupt.

This reality was hammered home in a new report this week that graded all fifty states on the risk of corruption. Every state was judged on over a dozen indicators, including whether budget processes are transparent, political leaders are accountable, ethics rules are enforced, and pension funds and contracts are protected from cronyism and special interests.