Kentucky Has Been Named America’s Most Corrupt City, Once Again


Kentucky, the Bluegrass State, is well-known for its bourbon, horse racing, and fried chicken. However, it is also known for corruption, which has plagued its politics and public institutions for decades. According to a recent Best Life investigation, Kentucky has the highest Corruption Index Score in the United States, with a total of 100.

This is not Kentucky’s first time receiving this unfortunate distinction. According to a 2015 study of state political reporters conducted by Harvard University’s Center for Ethics, Kentucky is the most corrupt state in terms of both legal and illicit corruption.

What Makes Kentucky So Corrupt?

Kentucky’s high degree of corruption is due to a variety of issues, including:

Lack of openness and accountability: Kentucky has insufficient rules and regulations governing public officials’ conduct and information sharing. For example, Kentucky lacks an independent ethics commission, a whistleblower protection statute, and a public records law that applies to the legislature. Furthermore, Kentucky has a low State Integrity Score of 56 out of 100, which assesses how well states prevent, expose, and punish corruption.

Culture of patronage and nepotism: Patronage and nepotism are pervasive in Kentucky, where political machines and dynasties utilize their power and influence to reward loyal followers and family members with employment, contracts, and favors. For example, former Governor Steve Beshear selected his son as state attorney general, and former House Speaker Greg Stumbo employed his daughter as a legislative aide. Such tactics foster conflict of interest and undermine meritocracy.

Money and special interests: Kentucky’s campaign finance regulations are permissive, allowing individuals and businesses to contribute unlimited amounts to political parties and organizations. Furthermore, Kentucky has a large number of lobbyists per population, who spend millions of dollars to influence legislative and regulatory decisions. For example, in 2020, the coal business spent more than $2.3 million lobbying in Kentucky, while the healthcare industry spent more than $1.9 million. These expenditures foster the notion that public policies are for sale to the highest bidder.

What Are the Consequences of Corruption?

Corruption has a significant and detrimental influence on the quality of life and well-being of Kentucky residents. Some of the repercussions of corruption include:

Economic inefficiency and inequality: Corruption impairs resource allocation, resulting in market inefficiencies. For example, corruption causes inefficient expenditure, exaggerated expenses, and low-quality public products and services. Corruption also lowers tax revenues, hinders foreign investment, and raises the debt load. Furthermore, corruption exacerbates income and wealth inequality because corrupt elites reap the advantages of economic progress while depriving the poor and marginalized of their due share.

Social and environmental issues: Corruption erodes people’s faith and confidence in their governments and institutions. For example, corruption weakens the rule of law, the judiciary’s independence, and the protection of human rights. Corruption also generates social instability, violence, and criminality, as people turn to other ways to vent their concerns and seek justice. Furthermore, corruption hurts the environment because corrupt officials disregard or violate environmental norms and standards. Corruption also impedes attempts to address the issues of climate change and natural catastrophes.

Political instability and insecurity: Corruption erodes the legitimacy and stability of the political system and the democratic process. For example, corruption has an impact on election fairness and legitimacy, elected officials’ representation and responsiveness, and citizen involvement and engagement. Corruption also challenges national security and state sovereignty, since corrupt officials sacrifice the nation’s interests and principles for personal gain.

How Can Corruption Be Reduced?

There is no simple or quick answer to the problem of corruption, but there are several efforts that may be done to mitigate it. Here are some suggestions:

Strengthening the legal and institutional framework: Kentucky must establish and implement stricter rules and regulations to prevent, detect, and punish corruption. Kentucky, for example, should establish an independent ethics commission, a whistleblower protection statute, and a public records law that applies to the legislature. Furthermore, Kentucky must enhance its State Integrity Score by increasing the openness and accountability of its public leaders and institutions.

Promoting a culture of integrity and civic responsibility: Kentucky must cultivate an environment that values honesty, integrity, and public service. For example, Kentucky must educate and teach its public officials and staff on the ethical standards and codes of behavior that they are required to adhere to. Furthermore, Kentucky must promote and empower its residents to monitor and report corruption, demand and exercise their rights, and engage and contribute to public affairs.

Kentucky needs to overhaul its political and economic systems, which promote and perpetuate corruption. Kentucky, for example, should amend its campaign finance rules to reduce the impact of money and special interests in politics. Furthermore, Kentucky must revise its economic policies to encourage competition, innovation, and inclusivity.


Kentucky has had a problem with corruption for a long time. In 2015, a study gave Kentucky the highest Corruption Index Score, which is not a very good honor. Corruption hurts the economy, society, and the credibility of government. It is caused by things like not being accountable, favoritism, and loose rules on campaign funding. To solve this problem, we need to change the law, change the way people think, and completely rebuild the system.

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