Massachusetts Named America’s Most Corrupt City, Again

Massachusetts, renowned for its rich history and prestigious universities, also carries the less flattering distinction of being the most corrupt state in the nation, as revealed by a recent report from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Examining public corruption convictions per capita from 1976 to 2020, the study highlights Massachusetts’ alarming position, with Boston taking the lead as the most corrupt city in the US, surpassing even Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

Historical Roots of Corruption

The roots of corruption in Massachusetts delve deep into its colonial history, manifesting in events like the Salem witch trials, Stamp Act riots, and the Boston Tea Party, driven by political and economic motives. As the 19th and 20th centuries unfolded, powerful political machines such as the Know-Nothing Party and Irish Catholic Democrats dominated the state, exerting control over patronage, elections, and public projects. Notorious figures like James Michael Curley, Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, and William Bulger became synonymous with corruption during this period.

A Cultural Quagmire

Beyond individual transgressions, Massachusetts grapples with a pervasive culture of “cronyism, nepotism, and favoritism” that permeates politics, business, and media. This culture thrives on a lack of transparency, accountability, and oversight within the state’s institutions, perpetuated by a weak opposition. Examples include the Probation Department’s patronage scandal, the mismanagement and fraud surrounding the Big Dig project, and the Boston Globe’s historically cozy relationship with the political establishment.

The High Cost of Corruption

Corruption exacts a substantial toll on Massachusetts residents, both financially and in terms of trust. Estimates suggest an annual cost of $1.8 billion, translating to approximately $275 per person, impacting taxes, service quality, and economic growth.

Trust in the state government erodes, leading to cynicism and disillusionment among the public. Only 29% of Massachusetts residents express trust in their state government, compared to 50% nationwide. Moreover, corruption tarnishes the state’s and city’s reputation, deterring businesses, investors, tourists, and potential residents.

A Glimpse of Change

While Massachusetts’ corruption issue is daunting, signs of hope and change emerge. Anti-corruption laws and reforms, including the Conflict of Interest Law, Public Records Law, and Campaign Finance Law, aim to bolster transparency and accountability.

Diverse leaders such as Governor Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, and Mayor Kim Janey have committed to combating corruption. Civil society groups and the media, exemplified by organizations like the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, the Pioneer Institute, and the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team, actively expose and challenge corruption, advocating for reform.


Massachusetts holds the unfortunate title of the most corrupt state, with Boston topping the list as the most corrupt city in the US. This stems from a deep-seated history and culture of corruption affecting politics, business, and media. The cost is significant, impacting both finances and public trust.

However, Massachusetts has taken strides toward change, with anti-corruption measures and committed leaders. The state has the potential to overcome its corruption problem and serve as a model for democracy and good governance.

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