The United States is the 17th least corrupt country in the world, according to the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index. The CPI, now in its twentieth year, is produced by Transparency International, the global civil society organization leading the fight against corruption. It measures expert opinions of perceived levels of public sector corruption in 175 countries. The three highest ranking countries are
Denmark, New Zealand, and Finland, with respective scores of 92, 91, and 89.
The 2014 United States score on the CPI is 74 out of a possible 100 points. A score of 100 on the CPI would indicate that a country is perceived to be very clean while a score of 0 would indicate that a country is perceived to be very corrupt. While the US CPI score and ranking place the US in an enviable position compared to most countries, the picture becomes less rosy when the US is compared to other advanced economies. The US lags Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, the Benelux countries, as well as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Canada. It should also be noted that several countries in the Caribbean and Latin America now score roughly equal to the US; these countries include Barbados, Chile, Uruguay, and the Bahamas.
Given that the CPI measures perceptions of public sector corruption, it is not possible to identify with certainty the reasons why the US lags many other advanced economies. However, one highly plausible explanation for this is the murky nexus between money and politics in all levels of United States government. As the highly publicized trial of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell showed earlier this year, there is a real risk that wealthy individuals are able to buy favors from elected officials. This risk is further compounded by the fact that state and local governments do not always have robust laws limiting acceptance of gifts. Moreover, the recent spate of corruption scandals in New York has also undermined the public’s confidence in the probity of state and local officials.
At the federal level, the recently completed 2014 midterm elections confirmed the ever-increasing role that wealthy individuals, corporations, and organizations play in financing political campaigns. Much of this money if funneled through and to various groups that are not obligated to publically report the sources of their funding, thereby making it impossible for the public to know who is financing various campaigns. While political corruption is a problem in all countries, it is notable that many of the countries that score higher than the US on the CPI impose donation and/or expenditure limits on political campaigns.
Corruption around the World
Globally, the average score on the CPI was 43, with 69% or just over two-thirds of countries scoring below 50, indicating that they have high levels of perceived corruption. The average score of countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia was 33, as was the average score of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa scored only slightly better, with an average of 38.
The fact that corruption remains firmly entrenched in much of the world means that advanced economies must take steps to ensure that corrupt political and business leaders do not utilize the global financial system to transfer and protect their ill-gotten gains. One concrete step that countries should take is to create a public register of the beneficial owners of all companies incorporated under their laws. Such public registries would make it harder for corrupt leaders to hide their stolen assets behind shell companies registered in another person’s name.
Denmark, which scores at the top of the 2014 CPI, recently announced that it will create such a public registry of the beneficial owners of companies incorporated in Denmark. In this, Denmark joins the UK which has also announced the creation of such a registry. Transparency International–USA calls on the United States to fulfill its commitment to the G20 that it will collect information on beneficial owners of companies and make this information available to law enforcement.
Another step that advanced economies can take to thwart corrupt foreign officials is to deny their visa requests. The United States recently did just that, denying visas to six Hungarian public officials suspected of corruption. TI-USA applauds this move and encourages the United States government to deny visas to public officials for whom credible evidence of corruption exists.
TI-USA also welcomes the United States Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Initiative, which uses existing asset forfeiture laws to investigate and seize the money and property that corrupt foreign officials have accumulated in the United States. The recent successful seizure of the Malibu villa of the corrupt son of the president of Equatorial Guinea is excellent news, and TI-USA encourages the DOJ to continue and expand this excellent initiative.
Transparency International has recently launched a new initiative, Unmask the Corrupt, which seeks to build support in countries around the globe for beneficial ownership registries, visa denials, and other strategies for ending the impunity that corrupt politicians and businesspeople enjoy in many countries. For more information this campaign, please visit the campaign website
For any press enquiries please contact
Claudia Dumas, Shruti Shah, or Daniel Dudis
Transparency International USA
T: +1-202-589 1616