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Perception Of Political Corruption Runs High In Nevada


Mayor "Diamond" Joe Quimby from the Simpsons seems always to be on the take. Is the same true of Nevada politicians?

Political corruption isn’t quite as American as mom and apple pie, but a survey by two Harvard fellows indicates journalists believe it’s getting there – especially in Nevada.

The 2014 survey asked questions about illegal corruption, which most of us know as bribes.

And it looked at legal corruption, essentially, campaign donations in return for political favors.

Oguzhan Dincer compiled the survey with Michael Johnston as fellows in the Harvard Law School Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.

Dincer told KNPR's State of Nevada, "it's impossible to measure corruption."

The Justice Department looks at conviction rates but Dincer said that measurement has a lot problems. He pointed to a case where an assistant district attorney was convicted of possessing cocaine and that was considered corruption. 

"We believe that a measure of perception is a lot better," Dincer said.

Dincer said they decided to talk to journalists about the issue because they are more informed and talk to politicians on a regular basis. 

Nevada ranked high in the area of legal corruption of the judicial branch with a majority of journalists saying it was 'very common.'

That assessment comes as no surprise to long-time political columnist Steve Sebelius. 

 "You have a very insular group," Sebelius said.

He pointed out that it is the attorneys who contribute to judicial campaigns and help judges get elected, but those same attorneys go before the judges in court.

"As long as you have elections for judges and judges are soliciting campaign funds from lawyers who appear before them there will always be the perception of corruption," Sebelius said.

Las Vegas Sun reporter Kyle Roerink said it is not just judges who get caught up in legal corruption. He believes the issue is really how closely tied the business community is to lawmakers.

"When we talk about 'legal corruption,' what we're talking about is how cozy are companies with our elected officials," Roerink said.

He agrees with the study and how it was conducted because he thinks journalists are the ones with their eyes trained on politicians. 

"That's why you ask journalists because we are the ones that are watching all these things take place in state houses and PUC's and whatever other public forums that we're all in," Roerink said.

As for Dincer, he plans on conducting more surveys and would like to compile 10 years worth of data to get a clear picture of political corruption.

However, data doesn't matter, if voters aren't engaged, he said. Dincer thinks it is up to journalists to keep up the coverage and up to the voters to understand what is going on and make changes.

"If the media doesn't cover this, people are not informed and if they don't go out and vote, we will be living  in this system for ages," Dincer said. 

Kyle Roerink, reporter, Las Vegas Sun; Steve Sebelius, columnist, Las Vegas Review-Journal; Oguzhan Dincer, associate professor of economics, Illinois State University

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.