A half-century ago, during the notorious Wally Barron administration, businesses were required to pay secret bribes if they wanted West Virginia government contracts. The Charleston Gazette helped reveal a shadowy network of fake out-of-state firms -- mere mailboxes -- to which payoffs were mailed. Federal prosecutions sent dozens of state officials to prison.
Later, other U.S. prosecutions occurred during the shady Arch Moore administration. Moore likewise went to U.S. prison. Today, by comparison, state government seems vastly cleaner.
But corruption remains an infection around the world, ranging from massive theft by national leaders to petty payola demanded by local police and inspectors. Remember, the "Arab Spring" wave of uprisings began because a Tunisian fruit vendor refused to pay a bribe to a policewoman, and set himself afire in protest.
A "Global Corruption Barometer" and a "Corruption Perceptions Index" are published by a Berlin-based watchdog group, Transparency International. These reports rank nations by their honesty levels. Scandinavian countries, Canada and New Zealand are cleanest. America ranks high, alongside England and Japan. Less-developed and Third World places are worst.
In Mexico, bottom-rung poor families spend one-third of their income for bribes, one report said.
Transparency International surveyed 114,000 people in 107 nations, and found that one-fourth had been forced to pay a bribe in the past year. A significant number said they refused a demand for a bribe.
Public protests and marches have sprung up in Brazil, India, Turkey and elsewhere. Some groups use social media to rally people against entrenched sleaze. "I Paid a Bribe" is an Indian site where whistleblowers can reveal crooked demands. Some witty Indians printed fake money with zero value, for people to hand to police officers or inspectors when asked for payola.
Although America ranks among cleaner societies, the problem still lurks. A 2005 Harvard University study found that U.S. states with lower education levels had more corruption. Well-educated people are better informed and more equipped to fight back against tainted systems. (We don't know if lobbyist money to legislators was counted in the tally of U.S. bribery.)Former Gazette Publisher W.E. "Ned" Chilton III demanded "sustained outrage" against all forms of government dirt. That motto remains a prime need.