Meyers is executive editor of The Fulcrum.
The United States has done little to improve its battle against public-sector corruption in recent years, according to Transparency International, which measures experts’ perception of corruption around the world. For the second year in a row, the U.S. ranks 24th out of 180 countries and territories.
The United States scored 69 out 100 on the group’s 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index, the same score as last year and a mere two-point improvement on 2020 and 2021.
“Despite important strides taken by this Congress and this Administration to combat transnational corruption, it is clear more needs to be done to curtail corruption in the U.S.,” said Gary Kalman, executive director of Transparency International U.S. “As the world's leading economy and a major democracy, we should strive for governance and transparency ratings that reflect our global standing.”
However, the United States did stand out as a leader in judicial independence – the focus of the latest report, released Tuesday.
Transparency International noted the Supreme Court has come under intense criticism for adopting an ethics code that lacks an enforcement mechanism in response to media reports exposing a lack of transparency among some justices. However, the group believes the U.S. judicial system has survived multiple political attacks and remains an example for the rest of the world.
“Attacks on the independence of the US federal and state judiciaries have largely failed, and cases against politically connected individuals have proceeded without effective interference,” the report states. “For example, credible legal cases against a former US President and against the current President’s son are moving forward through appropriate and independent judicial channels.”
The United States achieved its highest score in 2015 (75 out of 100, good for 16th place). The highest ranking for the U.S. was 14th in 2000. (Transparency International, which launched the index in 1995, changed the scoring system in 2012.) Generally, the United States has ranked in the high teens or the 20s.
Transparency International praised the U.S. for taking the steps in recent months to stem both domestic corruption and the flow of international corruption through American financial centers.
- In December, President Biden signed the Foreign Extortion Prevention Act, which allows federal prosecutors to charge foreign officials for soliciting bribes or accepting them from U.S. companies. Transparency International called it ”the most consequential anti-foreign-bribery law in nearly half a century.”
- New reporting requirements imposed by the Corporate Transparency Act, passed in 2021, went into effect in January. The new rules are intended to help authorities stop bad actors from using shell companies to launder money, support terrorism and avoid taxes.
- The Treasury Department is taking steps to prevent the use of real estate for money laundering.
Kalman praised the federal government for taking these steps, saying the United States can have a “truly global impact.”
But there is much more the United States can do to continue the battle against corruption, according to Transparency International U.S. Advocacy Director Scott Gretytak. And that work will require compromise from Republicans and Democrats.
“There is bipartisan legislation to extend our anti-money laundering laws to the lawyers, accountants and corporate service providers who serve as gatekeepers to our financial system,” he said. “Covering these enablers of illicit investment in the U.S. is the single most significant anti-money laundering policy reform facing Congress.”
This year, the United States is tied with Barbados, just behind Austria, France, Seychelles and the United Kingdom, and just ahead of Bhutan and the United Arab Emirates.
Denmark (score of 90 this year), Finland (87) and New Zealand (85) have been the top three countries every year since 2011, with Denmark holding the top spot in all but two of them. However, none of those countries are perfect. A recent report by Transparency International noted that banks in Denmark, among other European Union countries, have contributed to money laundering. The EU is creating a new agency to fight such crimes.
The countries with the worst scores are Somalia (11) and Venezuela, Syria and South Sudan, all with 13 points.
The average score among 32 countries in North and South America was 43. The United States and Barbados tied for third in the region, behind Canada (76) and Uruguay (73.)
Scores are based on data drawn from more than a dozen corruption surveys and assessments. Sources include the World Bank and the World Economic Forum.