Americans view U.S. government as increasingly corrupt


Over the past year, a new survey by Transparency International found that American adults believe corruption has increased in the United States, with the White House being the most corrupt government institution.

The results are bad news, with one exception: the vast majority of the public still believes that they can make a difference on corruption, a viewpoint that we at Sunlight also share. Here are five ways to make progress.

  • 44% of Americans believe that corruption is pervasive in the White House, up from 36 per cent in 2016.
  • Almost 7 out of 10 people believe the government is failing to fight corruption, up from half in 2016.
  • Close to a third of African-Americans surveyed see the police as highly corrupt, compared to a fifth across the survey overall.
  • 55% gave fear of retaliation as the main reason not to report corruption, up from 31 per cent in 2016.
  • 74% said ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption.

Discussing corruption and public discontents

This morning at the National Press Club, Transparency International convened a press conference that featured Sunlight’s executive director, John Wonderlich, and many of our key allies in transparency, accountability and ethics in government here in Washington, including Danielle Brian at the Project on Government Oversight, Lisa Rosenberg at OpenTheGovernment, and Gary Kalman at the FACT Coalition.

You can watch the archived video of the discussion in the embed below.

Here’s some more of the key takeaways:

The public views the Trump White House as the most corrupt institution

As Josh Rogin noted in the Washington Post, “the perception of Trump and his top officials as being corrupt is easy to understand. Trump and his family have scores of well-documented conflicts of interest they have dealt with in an opaque manner. Meanwhile, Trump’s failure to divest fully from his businesses, combined with his failure to release his tax returns, has fueled suspicions.”

Sunlight asked the White House press secretary for comment on the finding that public perceptions that the Office of the President has become more corrupt over the past year, and what what steps is the Trump administration is taking to address public corruption or public perception that the president is putting his private interests before those of the public.

We received no answer.

The public thinks the US is doing a worse job fighting corruption than it was

People view voting as the most effective action they can take

Positive change is possible

At this moment in our history, neither complacency nor the status quo are acceptable conditions. We need our government institutions and the public to work together to address corruption to prevent further erosion of our democracy.

Transparency International made a series of recommendations for the federal Government to consider to combat corruption, several of which will be familiar to Sunlighters and our communities.

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.

We endorse these approaches and urge Congress to consider meaningful action to make progress in corruption in the United States.