PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – “Corrupt” isn’t a word most Americans strongly associate with our national government, but what about at the state level?

A new study from Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics examines the state governments in terms of both “legal” and “illegal” corruption, and it’s mostly bad news for Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

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The research, which took an unconventional approach and interviewed reporters in each state about perceived corruption in each branch of government, was published earlier this month.

Citing research from the 1990s on state-level corruption utilizing reporters from Boylan and Long, the study’s authors argue for the use of reporters because they “have a better knowledge of state governments and spend a great deal of time observing the government officials and interacting with them.” Previous reports on corruption mostly used data from the Justice Department’s “Report to Congress on the Activities and Operations of the Public Integrity Section,” which covers crimes like election fraud and wire fraud, but is apparently problematic because it only includes convictions (not all cases tried) and doesn’t account for the “seriousness” of a case.

The Harvard researchers interviewed about 280 reporters from all over the country about perceived “legal” (“We define illegal corruption as the private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups.”) and “illegal” (“We define legal corruption as the political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups, be it by explicit or implicit understanding.”) corruption.

What they found is that both Pennsylvania and New Jersey were among those states identified as the most corrupt – both illegally and legally.

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Arizona was perceived to be the most illegally corrupt state overall, and Kentucky was identified as the most legally corrupt.

“It is all bad news for Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania as their aggregate scores are in the highest quartiles of both illegal and legal corruption,” the researchers write.

Of course, the study should be taken with a grain of salt. Not only is it based on a small group of reporters’ perceptions, no reporters from Louisiana — historically one of the most corrupt states in the country – replied to the scientists’ queries, so that state was not included in the research.

Still, the study is a reminder that although “corruption is not endemic in America as it is in several other countries, it does exist.”

To see the report, click here.

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