Hawaii Named America’s Most Corrupt City, Again

Hawaii, also known as the Aloha State, has once again claimed the dubious honor of being the most corrupt city in the United States, according to a recent report by the Institute for Corruption Studies at Illinois State University.

The report, which evaluates cities based on the per capita number of public corruption convictions from 1976 to 2024, identifies Honolulu, the state capital and largest city, as having the highest corruption rate. Other cities on the list include Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C.

Factors Contributing to Hawaii’s Corruption

The report’s author, Oguzhan Dincer, an economist and the director of the Institute for Corruption Studies, highlights several contributing factors to Hawaii’s elevated corruption levels:

  • Historical Legacy: Hawaii’s history of colonization, annexation, and statehood has led to political and economic inequality, generating resentment and resistance among the native Hawaiian population and other ethnic groups. This historical context has cultivated a culture where personal connections, favoritism, and loyalty take precedence over merit, transparency, and accountability.
  • Geographic Vulnerability: Hawaii’s isolated location and reliance on tourism and military spending make it susceptible to external influences. Foreign investors, lobbyists, and contractors often exploit the state’s resources, colluding with local politicians and officials who receive bribes, kickbacks, and campaign contributions in return for support and influence.
  • Institutional Weakness: The political landscape in Hawaii is dominated by a single party, the Democratic Party, which has maintained control of the state legislature since 1954. This lack of political diversity reduces checks and balances, enabling the abuse of power. Additionally, Hawaii’s judicial system, being weak and underfunded, struggles to effectively prosecute and penalize corruption cases.

Examples Illustrating Hawaii’s Corruption

Corruption in Hawaii extends across all levels and branches of government. Notable instances include:

  • Kealoha Scandal: In 2019, former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, a former deputy prosecutor, were convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and other charges. They orchestrated a scheme to frame a relative for mailbox theft to conceal their financial fraud and theft. Several police officers and officials were also accused of abusing power by falsifying records, tampering with evidence, lying to investigators, and violating civil rights.
  • Rail Project: The Honolulu rail project, initiated in 2005 to alleviate traffic congestion, has faced delays, cost overruns, mismanagement, and corruption. Originally estimated at $5.3 billion, the project’s cost has surged to $12.4 billion with ongoing delays. Federal investigations and audits have revealed instances of fraud, waste, abuse, and conflicts of interest involving contractors, consultants, officials, and politicians.
  • Bishop Estate: The Kamehameha Schools, formerly the Bishop Estate, a private school system and trust founded in 1887, has been valued at over $10 billion. However, it has been embroiled in scandals involving trustees accused of mismanaging assets, engaging in self-dealing and nepotism, and violating fiduciary duties.


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