Transparency International US Corruption Barometer: Striking Increases in Public Perceptions of Government Corruption in the US, Especially in the White House

Introduction: Transparency International's 2017 Global Corruption Barometer US Results

Last month, Transparency International (TI) released the results of its 2017 US Corruption Barometer, a global survey of peoples' perceptions of the degree to which their national institutions are corrupt.  We discussed the results from the US, based on data collected in late 2016, which showed that

the US had results suggesting it has important problems with corruption.  More than one-third of US respondents thought that most executive branch leaders, legislators, and business executives are involved in corruption,  Just less than one-third thought that most government officials are involved in corruption.  More than one-half of US respondents thought that the government is handling the fight against corruption badly.  More than one-third thought that corruption had gotten worse in the previous year.  More than 20% thought it is not socially acceptable to report corruption.

Furthermore, the US had the worst results, compared to the other four developed countries, in four categories, and did not have the best results in any.

Unfortunately, since this data was collected no later than January, 2017, it did not reflect events during the Trump presidency.  There are reasons to think that things are now worse.

Since Trump's inauguration we have frequently posted about apparent conflicts of interest and corruption affecting health and health care policy and regulation under that regime. (Our most recent post was here. Older ones are included here.)

In particular, the Trump regime chose many people for health care leadership positions who would have to transit the revolving door from health care corporations to these new jobs.  In them they would be able to affect policies or regulations which could influence these same corporations.  The most striking recent example was the nomination of the former top US executive of global pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly to be Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, (look here.)

But the Global Corruption Barometer survey was done too early to be affected by these phenomena.  .

Transparency International's New 2017 US Corruption Barometer

However, this week Transparency International released results of a new 2017 US version of the Corruption Barometer.  It was based on data collected during the Trump regime, from October to November, 2017.  (The news release is here, and the full report is here.)   Its results were striking, and did corroborate our case based observations.

From the press release, here are the key results:

- 44 per cent of Americans believe that corruption is pervasive in the White House, up from 36 per cent in 2016.

- 58 per cent of people say the level of corruption has risen in the past twelve months, up from 34 per cent who said the same in January 2016.

- Almost 7 out of 10 people believe the government is failing to fight corruption, up from half in 2016.

- 55 per cent gave fear of retaliation as the main reason not to report corruption, up from 31 per cent in 2016.

- Close to a third of African-Americans surveyed see the police as highly corrupt, compared to a fifth across the survey overall.

- 74 per cent said ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption, up 4 percentage points from 2016.

Note that:

In both 2016 and 2017, the Office of the President, members of Congress and government officials were seen as the most corrupt. In 2017, the White House overtook Congress.

Local government fared better than federal institutions, indicating that people place more trust in their representatives closer to home. Judges are seen as the least corrupt of the nine groups we asked about.

In constrast, the proportion of people who believe business executives are seriously involved with corruption was stable at 32%.


Also,

the survey revealed a worrying increase in those who say that the main reason people do not report corruption is because they are afraid of the consequences, up from 31 per cent in 2016 to 55 per cent in 2017. Sixteen per cent said the main reason people do not report corruption is because nothing will be done.

Here is a graphic from the report that shows the proportions of respondents who thought most or all of those who worked in particular institutuions were involved in corruption:




Here is a graphic form the report showing how well respondents thought the government is fighting corruption (2016 vs 2017):



Media Response

Unlike the 2017 Global Corruption Barometer report, the new US report got some media attention, at least there were reports by the Washington Post, Newsweek and NPR.

It was striking that all focused on how the public's opinion about Trump administration corruption was corroborated by an extensive series of cases, including those in health care that we discussed, but also many more.  The most extensive summary of cases was in Newsweek. 

Since before he took office, Trump and his family’s personal conflicts of interest, and his agencies’ revolving doors, have been widely reported on in the media and heavily criticized by ethics lawyers and government watchdogs.

While the president handed off day-to-day oversight of his company to his sons Eric and Donald Jr., his hotels and golf courses have become vehicles for lobbyists and foreign dignitaries to curry favor with the administration, and, in the case of the golf courses, actually meet and play with the golf-loving president.

Shortly before his election last year, the Trump campaign trotted out a new slogan and a five-point plan for ethics reform that featured new lobbying restrictions. The plan was called 'drain the swamp.'

But a year later, he had stocked his agencies with lobbyists for industries that were regulated by the agencies, and his administration has been rocked by almost daily legal and investigatory bombshells related to corruption. Trump is being sued in Maryland and Washington, D.C., for violating the 'emoluments clause' of the U.S. Constitution by running his Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.; Paul Manafort, the second Trump campaign manager, has been indicted on money-laundering charges; Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in an investigation that also uncovered secret lobbying work for the Turkish government; and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, failed to disclose $1 billion in loans tied to his real estate company, and has repeatedly had to revise his financial-disclosure forms to add items he 'forgot.'

At least six Trump Cabinet secretaries are being investigated for or asked about exorbitant travel expenses, including using government planes for private business, security details or business dealings.

Cabinet members, including Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, have used travel to combine business with pleasure and fundraising. Shulkin took in a Wimbledon tennis game on business, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reportedly spent at least $800,000 on nonwork travel, including a viewing of the August 21 solar eclipse. He also requested a jet for his honeymoon, and to take his wife to the Fort Knox gold reserve.

The president’s hiring of his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law are at odds with the federal anti-nepotism law, which states that 'a public official may not appoint, employ, promote, advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement, in or to a civilian position in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control any individual who is a relative of the public official.' His Justice Department gave him an exemption, however.

I would also note that the Sunlight Foundation has found that President Trump has over 600 conflicts of interest, and that his family has over 1100 (look here).


Summary


We have previously insisted that health care corruption is an important cause of US health care dysfunction, and that any efforts to truly reform health care require addressing health care corruption.  For example, here we said,

if we really want to reform health care, in the little time we may have before our health care bubble bursts, we will need to take strong action against health care corruption.  Such action will really disturb the insiders within large health care organizations who have gotten rich from their organizations' misbehavior, and thus taking such action will require some courage.

But in the US, since the beginning of the Trump regime, health care corruption appears to be getting worse, in the context of severely worsening corruption in the executive branch of government.

Transparency International modestly suggested its results indicate

our elected leaders in Washington have much more work to do to win back the trust of citizens
They did have concrete recommendations (detailed in the full report):


1. Transparency in political spending:

Make all spending on politics genuinely transparent, with:

- real-time information accessible in online, machine-readable form to the public

- transparency on political spending by publicly traded companies

- transparency to the public on every level of influence, from political ad campaigns, to lobbying, to bundled campaign contributions.

2. Prevention of revolving doors:

Stop the unchecked exchange of personnel among corporations, lobbyists and our elected and high-level government officials.

3. Establishing who owns what:

End the use of anonymous shell companies, which can be a source of conflict of interest and/or vehicles for illicit activity.

4. Strengthening the ethics infrastructure:

Reinforce the independence and oversight capabilities of the Office of Government Ethics.

5. Protection of whistleblowers:

Improve and implement laws and regulations to protect the whistleblowers who expose corruption and other misconduct by the government and its contractors.

6. Providing basic access to information:

Increase access to information about the government, as a means to empower the public to fight corruption.

IMHO these provide a good framework for immediate action.  However, it seems highly unlikely that given its record, the current regime would be interested in any of them.  But I live in hope.