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Illinois nearly ranks top corrupted state in the country; experts say issue is improving following high profile convictions

As Illinois Ranks Top Corrupted State, Experts Say Issue Is Getting Better 03:37

CHICAGO (CBS) -- After former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan becomes the latest local politician indicted on criminal charges, it probably doesn't come as a surprise that Illinois ranks near the top of the most corrupt states in the country.

But, what can be done to clean up Illinois's reputation? CBS 2's Chris Tye takes us to the Dirksen Federal Building with what he's found.

Patronage plus favoritism equals corruption. It's the formula of machine politics deeply woven into the fabric of Illinois politics.

While many cities and states have seen it come and go, it's been slow to leave Illinois.

"This goes back to the civil war and the great fire 150 years."

While the fire was put out, embers from the political favoritism machine it created still burn.

"Most states have improved. We are still with places like LA that have not solved the problem yet."

It's a problem former Alderman and current UIC professor Dick Simpson has researched for decades.

His study shows from 1976 through 2019 no part of the country had as many public corruption convictions as Northern Illinois with over 1700.

Only in the northern district of Illinois' does the U.S. attorney have three corruption units.

Units working the case against Mike Madigan.

"The single biggest change in the last five decades is the shakman decrees making patronage a crime. It's a federal crime to give someone a job in return for their political support."

Simpson says high-profile targets signal the problem is actually getting better.

UIC Political Science Professor, Former Alderman Dick Simpson Speaks On Corruption In Politics 01:34

States with the most progress on the topic have robust Inspector General offices -- watchdogs inside government with the power to punish.

He singles out one major piece of Illinois politics without one.

"There is no single Inspector General system for the suburbs. And that is a major problem.  When the sheriff volunteers to act as IG, for free, to the suburbs and only 10 out of 129 suburbs have accepted. Red flag. There's a lot of corruption going on in the suburbs. Not just the city."

Simpson says 2022 will be seen as a partial turning point in the war against corruption. He says the biggest signals: federal probes of suburban red light camera contracts, the Madigan charges, and the investigation of Ed Burke.

Though he doesn't point to a city or state in this country that tackled the problem successfully, the anti-corruption commissions in Sydney Australia and Hong Kong are said to be the gold standard.

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