TIME corruption

America’s Most Corrupt State Is Standing Up for Itself

LSU v Mississippi
Detailed view of the exterior of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on the Ole Miss campus. Stacy Revere—Getty Images

Officials argue a recent report doesn’t take into account recent anti-corruption efforts

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

The entire world must contend with corruption. It costs honest citizens thousands of dollars per year and saps trust in public and private institutions.

We’ve all experienced corruption on at least a small scale at some point in our lives, but actually measuring it is difficult. Recently, Fortune covered a study by two public policy researchers—Cheol Liu of the City University of Hong Kong and John L. Mikesell of Indiana University—who looked the rate at which public employees in each of the 50 U.S. states had been convicted on federal corruption charges from 1976 to 2008 to determine which state was the most corrupt in the union.

Their conclusion? Mississippi, The Hospitality State, has not been all that hospitable to its citizens over the past 30-plus years, according to the study. The state had the highest ratio of public workers who were censured for misuse of public funds and other charges.

The researchers looked at the hard numbers—federal convictions—to control for differences in spending on law enforcement and the rigor of state corruption laws.

While these numbers don’t lie, Mississippi officials were none too pleased to top this list. As the state’s top corruption fighter, Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering argued in an interview with Fortune that the study relied on old data and didn’t take into account the state’s anti-corruption efforts.

“This is dated material that goes back to 1976 until 2008, the year I was sworn into office,” said Pickering.

For the rest of the story, please visit Fortune.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 22

1. Caught between a war and life in a state of endless siege, Palestinians see no choice but to support Hamas.

By Noam Sheizaf in +972

2. Unfortunately, a deal with Russia is the only way to defuse the crisis in Ukraine.

By Iain Martin in the Telegraph

3. To beat the fundraising obsession that paralyzes Washington, disclose donation data less often.

By Lindsay Mark Lewis at the Atlantic

4. The research is clear: Our best strategy to fight the spread of HIV is decriminalizing sex work.

By Caelainn Hogan in the Washington Post

5. More than a sideline, corruption is a system for powerful actors to capture revenue and overshadow the operation of a state. And it is a major threat to international security.

By Sarah Chayes at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Campaign Finance

If Campaign Ads Told the Truth, They Would Sound Like This

Meet "Honest Gil", a satirical candidate in Kentucky's senate race

+ READ ARTICLE

Ever wonder what politicians would say if they had to always speak the unvarnished truth?

Meet Gil Fulbright, (Or Phil Gulbright. Or Bill Fulbright. Or Phillip Mimouf-Wifarts. You’ll understand once you’ve watched the ad).

“Honest Gil” is a satirical candidate for the U.S. Senate in the Kentucky race between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. Gil plans to rent a campaign bus, take out billboard and TV ads and show up at campaign events in order to make a spectacle of what is poised to be the most expensive Senate election in American history.

Fulbright will be the face of Represent.Us, a non-partisan movement claiming 450,000 supporters that wants to pass campaign finance and anti-corruption laws to limit the influence of money on Washington. With 26 days left in its Indiegogo campaign to raise money for Fulbright’s shenanigans, the group has already busted through its fundraising goal of $20,000.

The effort is reminiscent of the Mayday PAC, Lawrence Lessig’s new crowd-funded cannibal Super PAC to destroy all Super PACs.

Whatever your position on campaign finance, Fulbright’s commercial is at the very least a funny/tragically spot-on commentary on the state of political discourse in the U.S.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 10

1. Political corruption is a scourge and should be punished. Why not make these crooked politicians serve the public interest and help track down other lawbreakers?

By Walter Isaacson in TIME

2. With urban farming, Cleveland Crops energizes people with disabilities.

By Hannah Wallace in Civil Eats

3. Fertilizing the oceans: How feeding iron to plankton could help move the needle on global warming.

By David Biello in Aeon

4. The gas tax can’t solve America’s transportation funding problem. Oregon’s pay-per-mile program just might.

By Eric Jaffe in Citylab

5. Today’s 20-somethings have the lowest median income since 1970. To jumpstart that generation, we need to talk about wages.

By Derek Thompson in Quartz

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Crime

New Orleans Looks to Turn the Page After Nagin Sentencing

Former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin leaves court after being sentenced to 10 years in New Orleans, Louisiana
Former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin leaves court after being sentenced to 10 years in New Orleans, Louisiana July 9, 2014. Jonathan Bachman—Reuters

Political observers say they can now put corruption behind them

When Ray Nagin first ran for mayor of New Orleans, he was elected by a broad coalition eager to see him fulfill his promise to tackle graft in a city notorious for corruption. Now, after being convicted of handing out the very favors he was elected to halt, Nagin was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison on corruption charges—a judgment local political observers say will finally allow the city to move away from its corrupt past.

“Today marks the end of a sad chapter for our city,” current New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement to TIME. “The people of New Orleans are turning the page and moving forward.”

Landrieu is not the only New Orleans resident who hopes the sentencing will mark a fresh start for the city. Rafael C. Goyeneche, a local anti-corruption activist who played a role in Nagin’s conviction by helping collect evidence of the former mayor’s involvement in a bribery scheme, said that the conviction and sentencing of corrupt politicians in the wake of Hurricane Katrina means that “risks now exceed the rewards” for officials considering engaging in graft.

Rebuilding efforts after the 2005 hurricane created ample opportunity for corruption as firms bid for lucrative construction contracts to help repair razed portions of the city. “Before Katrina, public officials were more predisposed to commit criminal acts because they weren’t deterred,” said Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. “Now there’s a consequence. If you do betray the public trust, you’re more likely than ever to be held accountable and pay a dear price.”

Mike Sherman, a political science professor at nearby Tulane University, said that statements about moving New Orleans into a new era are more than just rhetoric, citing the creation of a new inspector general’s office and reforms to remove the mayor from the contracting process.

Goyeneche adds that public frustration with corruption moved authorities to act. “Before Katrina, people felt a sense of apathy,” he said. “They came back after the storm [and] the mindset became if we’re going to invest all of the time effort and money to rebuild this community, let’s not rebuild it in the image that it was but in the image that it needs to be.”

Still, while Nagin is gone for now, politicians have been known to rise from the political dead in Louisiana, where corruption and scandal seem as ubiquitous as voodoo dolls and Saints shirts. Former Congressman William Jefferson was reelected in 2006 despite a highly-publicized F.B.I. raid that found $90,000 in cash in the congressman’s freezer. And former Governor Edwin Edwards, who served eight years in prison on corruption charges, is now running for congress.

In spite of all this, Sherman believes that Nagin, for one, is done in politics. There’s “not a palpable sense that Nagin has any supporters left,” he said.

TIME Crime

Former New Orleans Mayor Nagin Sentenced to 10 Years for Accepting Bribes

Ray Nagin
Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin leaves federal court after his conviction in New Orleans, Feb. 12, 2014. Gerald Herbert—AP

Ray Nagin was convicted on bribery charges in February

Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a federal judge Wednesday for accepting bribes from city contractors.

Nagin, a two-term mayor who received national attention for his handling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in 2005, was convicted in February on 20 counts of bribery, wire fraud and money laundering. Wednesday’s sentence was lenient by most accounts, as sentencing guidelines called for 20 years or more, according to the Times-Picayune.

Nagin spoke briefly during sentencing on Wednesday to thank his staff, while he adamantly maintained his innocence during the trial. In written statements to the judge, members of Nagin’s family argued that the former mayor was wrongly convicted and defiantly pleaded for leniency.

“The local federal agents of New Orleans have large resources and can indict anything. In this case, its as an innocent man, my father … Ray Nagin,” the former mayor’s son, Jeremy Nagin wrote, according to the Times-Picayune. “(Prosecutors) pimped criminally convicted (and) questionable witnesses to lie on the stand for future rewards.”

For local officials, the February conviction and Wednesday’s sentencing represent an opportunity to move past a drawn-out scandal that has captured the region’s attention.

“Hopefully, this closes a very kind of ugly chapter in the history of the city of New Orleans,” the city’s current mayor, Mitch Landrieu, told the Times-Picayune.

TIME Newsmaker Interview

Lawrence Lessig on His Super PAC to End Super PACs

18th Annual Webby Awards - Arrivals
Lawrence Lessig attends 18th Annual Webby Awards on May 19, 2014 in New York, United States. Brad Barket—Getty Images

The election reformer talks about getting jilted by Comedy Central and why he’s probably not coming after Mitch McConnell. Yet

Law professor Lawrence Lessig’s plan to reform campaign finance in America by blowing the system up from the inside has always been such a longshot that even he is astonished by its fundraising success so far.

The Mayday PAC project launched in May with an initial fundraising goal of $1 million, followed by a $ 5 million goal, all raised through Kickstarter-like pledges. The PAC would then use the money to support five candidates in 2014 committed to serious campaign finance reform—a Super PAC to destroy Super PACs.

The goal was still distant as the July 4 deadline approached, but in its final hours supporters rallied: More than 50,000 people have donated $7.6 million to date. And unlike most Kickstarter campaigns, that’s without offering any swag.

“We attracted this money without offering any t-shirts or any buttons or any anything,” Lessig told TIME.

A matching donation of $5 million still to come should push Mayday PAC’s unexpectedly brimming war chest over $12 million, giving it more than $2 million to spend apiece on five elections.

Lessig spoke with TIME about the PAC’s unlikely success, the challenges it still faces and how it’s choosing which candidates to support.

TIME: That was an ambitious fundraising goal—how are you feeling?

Lawrence Lessig: It was an insane fundraising goal and I’m incredibly surprised and happy that people rallied the way they did. It was really extraordinary.

Were you worried toward the end?

Yeah, I was of course worried at the end. Our plan was we would do the first round and that would attract the attention of somebody like Comedy Central, which would get us the exposure we needed to win on the second round. Because what we knew is if we got before enough people’s eyeballs we would get the support we needed. But as time wore on it was clear Comedy Central was not going to jump into the breach, so we needed to rely on just plain old peer-to-peer, Internet activism. And that in the end seemed to work.

In reforming campaign finance you face not just the institutional impediment of Congress but precedent set by the Supreme Court. What’s the plan?

I actually don’t think there’s any constitutional impediments to the first step reforms that we’ve talked about. We want to change the way campaigns are funded and the Supreme Court has been quite clear that Congress has the power to change the way campaigns are funded through voluntary public funding. Now, what we support is not the traditional public funding—where the government writes a check to fund your campaigns—but bottom up public funding, where it’s matching funds like John Sarbanes Government By the People Act, or a voucher program. Either way this is a public funding program that would help people by creating small dollar systems that they could fund winning campaigns with. That’s completely constitutional and would create the first step toward building a Congress that might address any constitutional problems.

In picking candidates will there be a litmus test beyond a commitment to substantial campaign finance reform.

No. There’s no litmus test for them beyond substantial reform, fundamental reform and the reform we’ve been talking about: changing the way campaigns are funded.

Now, in picking the first five though. that’s a necessary condition but not sufficient. We need to pick races that are exciting enough, difficult enough, challenging, so that when we win people will say it’s amazing they won and that they won on this issue. So, for example, Mitch McConnell’s race would be fun to win but it wouldn’t be clear why anybody won because there are a thousand reasons why Mitch McConnell might be defeated. So that wouldn’t be an interesting race for us but we’re looking for races where when we win people will say it’s extraordinary that they won on the basis of this issue in that district.

You’d support a viable candidate of any political stripe, assuming they’re not too far off the mainstream?

I’m not so concerned about mainstream. I’m concerned about viability and commitment to fundamental reform. Those two elements are the driving factors initially. Next cycle, assuming we’re successful and we create excitement around this issue and can begin to recruit the kind of support we need to win in 2016, it’s about winning in every district we need to get a majority in Congress, but this time it’s about picking those victories in a way that is generative for this more ambitious task in 2016.

TIME France

France’s Far Right Could Benefit From Sarkozy’s Legal Woes

Nicolas Sarkozy
Sarkozy's legal cloud puts his political future in doubt Kenzo Tribouillard—AFP/Getty Images

The former French President is under investigation, putting his political future under a cloud—and giving Marine Le Pen an opening

Even in a country where political scandals are a constant, the French were stunned to see their former President Nicolas Sarkozy hauled into a police station on July 1 for 15 hours of interrogation. Sarkozy was brought before judges well after midnight that day, where he was formally placed under investigation for corruption and influence peddling, relating to suspicions that Sarkozy had tried to wrest information from a senior judge about a legal case being built against him. An exhausted-looking Sarkozy was shown on television in the back of a police car, clearly shaken by his ordeal. “Is this normal?” Sarkozy asked in a national television and radio interview on the evening of July 2—his first such Q&A in two years—that had millions of viewers spellbound. “I’m profoundly shocked at what has happened.”

But besides his shock, Sarkozy, who lost his reelection bid to President François Hollande in 2012, might already be plotting his next political move—a move that could involve casting himself as the victim rather than the villain in his latest legal drama. As the French absorbed the newest accusations against Sarkozy, the ex-president has emerged in this week’s blanket media coverage as a lone wolf up against the establishment. That’s an ironic twist for a politician whose image as the consummate insider partly led to his reelection defeat. Two days after Sarkozy’s 15-hour police grilling, Sarkozy watchers say they believe he has several options ahead—not all of them bad. “He could become chief of the opposition in fighting both Hollande and the judges,” Christophe Barbier, editor of the French newsweekly L’Express, told TIME on Thursday. “That seems the most probable solution.”

Sarkozy has faced so many investigations since winning the presidency in 2007 that he and his lawyer had tried to avoid surveillance by using prepaid telephones registered in other people’s names. Police tapped those phones, however, leading them to focus on whether the two men tried to wrangle details about the case against Sarkozy from a top appeals-court judge—the subject of his grilling on Tuesday. The charges could lead judges to bring the case to trial, with Sarkozy and his lawyer Thierry Herzog potentially facing a five-year sentence and a $680,000 fine if found guilty. To say the least, that would hugely complicate Sarkozy’s ambitions for a comeback against the beleaguered President Hollande in the 2017 elections.

Even if the former president beats this new investigation, however, it is not his only legal battle. Last year, investigators finally dropped charges alleging that Sarkozy took advantage of the aging billionaire L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt by taking millions of euros from her to fund his 2007 presidential bid. But they are still probing allegations that Sarkozy sought some $68 million for his 2007 campaign from then-Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi—the investigation in which he is now suspected of interfering with the senior judge.

But this week’s grilling cuts to the heart of a deeper issue, and it is one that rankles French voters: whether the alleged behavior of Sarkozy was just business as usual for the country’s famously cloistered elites. It could be “simply part of the bullying tactics of people in power that have been tolerated so far,” says Agnès Poirier, author and columnist for the political magazine Marianne, writing in the Guardian on Wednesday. Sarkozy, says Poirier, has regularly demanded information from officials about investigations against him, including once calling the head of the French intelligence service. “If nothing else, this new episode is shedding some more light on “‘le système Sarkozy,'” Poirier said.

Still, Sarkozy is hardly ready to hang it up politically. After laying low for Hollande’s first year in office, he has spent months angling for a return, and has said he intends deciding his next moves—including a possible presidential bid—by summer’s end. Enraged and combative on television on Wednesday night, Sarkozy nonetheless worked hard to dismantle the image of himself as someone accustomed to special access. He called the new charges “grotesque,” but quickly added, “I’m not demanding any privilege.” His voice dropping to a low rasp, he said, “If I have made mistakes I will face the consequences.”

Yet some of the consequences of Sarkozy’s legal battles are already contributing to the deep disarray of French politics. Sarkozy fares much better than President Hollande in most polls, and the former president is popular among many UMP voters, with supporters mobbing him on the sidewalk after his interrogation on Tuesday. Yet the UMP is locked in its own struggle for power. Jean-Francois Copé was appointed as leader only after bitter infighting. Since he resigned in May three former prime ministers have been running the party in an awkward, interim arrangement, as they wait to see what Sarkozy will do.

In fact, there is only one clear winner in this political upheaval: Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, which won the most French votes in the European Union elections in May, and which grabbed nearly one-quarter of the votes in France’s municipal elections last March, largely by slicing off support by disaffected UMP-ers. Pitching the two major parties as corrupt and ineffectual, Le Pen has soared in the polls. She told TIME in May that she believes she is headed for the top, that she intends running for president and that she believes that “the National Front will be in power within 10 years.”

Barbier, editor of L’Express, believes that much will depend on whether Sarkozy can cast himself as a new man: calm and reflective, rather than the volatile, temperamental man the French remember from his time in office. “If he is more calm, more tranquil, if he goes into it in that style,” Sarkozy could perhaps prevail, Barbier says. He believes Sarkozy’s first move might be to take back control of the UMP, and knock it into shape, ready for the presidential race in 2017.

Sarkozy’s makeover might already have begun. After a mostly combative TV interview on Wednesday night the former president struck a more conciliatory tone afterwards, tweeting: “I love my country passionately and I am not a man to be discouraged.” His supporters hope that passion and tenacity will be enough to carry their man through.

TIME southeast asia

A Young Girl Kept as a Slave for 5 Years in Thailand Wins Landmark Damages

Illegal Myanmar Immigrants Make Living In Rubbish Field in Thailand
An illegal-immigrant boy from Burma works at mountains of rubbish in Mae Sot, Thailand, on July 18, 2013 The Asahi Shimbun—Getty Images

Sold as a 7-year-old, she keeps the spotlight on the dangers faced by the estimated 4 million migrant workers in Thailand

A 13-year-old Burmese girl who was tortured for five years by a Thai couple who treated her as a slave has finally been awarded $143,000 in compensation by a local court, ending one nightmare but throwing the spotlight on the plight of countless other vulnerable migrants who suffer similar abuse.

The victim, who was just 7 years old when she was sold into slavery, must live with horrendous scars over half her body after she was regularly drenched with pots of boiling water for perceived disobedience. (The extent of her disfigurement can be seen on this Thai news report, but be warned — the images are distressing.)

The girl, an ethnic Karen known as Air, says she was kidnapped while her illegal-migrant parents were working in sugarcane fields in northwest Thailand. She was then sold to a Thai couple who made her work as a maid and sleep in a dog kennel. Air says she escaped once and summoned the police, only to be returned to her abusers, who allegedly cut off the tip of her ear as punishment. The girl eventually escaped successfully on Jan. 31 last year.

“The couple is still at large, but lawyers will investigate all of the employers’ properties to compensate her,” Preeda Tongchumnum, the assistant to the secretary general of the Bangkok-based Human Rights and Development Foundation, told the Irrawaddy. “She cannot make a 100% recovery, but the doctor will help her to move her body like any other person.”

Although Monday’s award must be deemed a victory of sorts, the uncomfortable truth remains that the girl’s plight mirrors that of many of the estimated 4 million migrant workers in Thailand, who toil with virtually no legal safeguards and are often exploited by venal officials.

Compounding matters, the couple accused of torturing Air — identified as Nathee Taengorn, 36, and Rattanakorn Piyavoratharm, 34 — skipped town after they were inexplicably released on police bail despite facing seven serious charges. Local media reports alleged the pair had “influential” connections. The police have yet to offer an explanation for Air’s claim that they returned her to her captors after her first escape bid.

Such official indifference to the plight of migrant labor has contributed to the U.S. State Department’s decision last month to relegate Thailand to the lowest rank of its Trafficking in Persons report — putting the self-styled “Land of Smiles” on par with North Korea for its inability or unwillingness to protect workers from abuse.

“There cannot be impunity for those who traffic in human beings,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to mark the report’s release. “Whether it is a young girl trapped in a brothel or a woman enslaved as a domestic worker or a boy forced to sell himself on the street or a man abused on a fishing boat, the victims of these crimes all have names, all had families.”

Sadly, all four of the examples citied by Kerry are commonplace in Thailand, which has long been a hub for migrant laborers fleeing war, poverty or political persecution in less affluent neighboring countries. The Thai fishing industry has come into particular scrutiny recently.

This already dire situation has been further complicated by Thailand’s military coup on May 22. Fears of a crackdown prompted an exodus of more than 250,000 mainly Cambodian workers, although the junta insists that by requiring all companies to “submit comprehensive name lists of their employees” it is now working to prevent “illegal activity, drugs, crime, unfair employment and bodily harm.”

Such assurances have not convinced human-rights activists, though. “Migrant workers make huge contributions to Thailand’s economy, but their daily life is unsafe and uncertain, and they face abuses from many quarters,” Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, calling for the junta to “reverse this [exodus] disaster by quickly putting into place genuine reforms that would protect migrant workers’ rights, not threaten them.”

TIME France

Sarkozy Faces Charges in French Corruption Probe

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives with police by car at the financial investigation unit in Paris to be presented to a judge
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives with police by car at the financial investigation unit in Paris to be presented to a judge late July 1, 2014. Former French President Sarkozy was held for questioning for 15 hours on Tuesday over suspicions he used his influence to secure leaked details of an inquiry into alleged irregularities in his 2007 election campaign. Pascal Rossignol—Reuters

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the judicial investigation is being carried out independently of the Socialist government, which defeated Sarkozy in elections in 2012

(PARIS) — Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, his lawyer and a magistrate are facing preliminary charges in a corruption investigation linked to allegations that he took 50 million euros ($67 million) in illegal campaign funds from Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, after a night of questioning by judicial officials.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the judicial investigation is being carried out independently of the Socialist government, which defeated Sarkozy in elections in 2012.

“This situation is serious, the facts are serious,” Valls told BFM television Wednesday. “The indictment concerns magistrates — high level magistrates — a lawyer, a former president of France. But as head of the government, I’m asking that we recall the independence of the justice system, which must carry out its work serenely. No one is above the law, is the second principle. And thirdly, and it is important to remind it, there is the presumption of innocence which applies to everybody.”

Lawyers for Thierry Herzog, Sarkozy’s attorney, and the magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, said the men were handed preliminary charges of influence trafficking. The French daily Le Monde says the questioning centers around whether Sarkozy and his lawyer were kept informed about the investigation into the Libyan allegations by Azibert in exchange for promises of a post in Monaco.

Azibert did not receive a job in Monaco.

Sarkozy has vigorously denied wrongdoing.

After further investigation, judges will determine whether to bring the case to trial.

Suspicions are based at least in part on taped phone conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog.

Herzog’s lawyer, Paul-Albert Iweins, sharply criticized the decision to take the men into custody for questioning, which lasted into the early hours of Wednesday.

“None of these men is going to flee, they are not going to ignore a summons,” Iweins told France Info. “The only reason to detain them is to apply psychological pressure.”

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