Scott Greytak, Transparency International - Why the US’s ranking on the Corruption Perceptions Index is falling

Scott Greytak, Transparency International
Why the US’s ranking on the Corruption Perceptions Index is falling


Desperation feeds disorder in America as anxious and angry people contemplate breaking all kinds of laws and customs in “patriotic” or personal self-defense.

Desperation and disorder go global as nations and humans push and shove and jump the line to get a Coronavirus vaccination.  

Political desperados feed off the disorder, issuing emergency laws to regulate societies locked down and economies paralyzed by COVID-19. The pandemic has provided cover for gross government attacks on free speech in Hungary and anything like rule of law in the Philippines. These are things that people who do international business or study, or just travel beyond their own borders notice and call signs of corruption.

As you might expect, these businesspeople and investors, scientists, scholars, journalists and human rights workers also take note of more venal forms of corruption. When emergency laws misappropriate funds for small businesses to much bigger ones, or when they hand high-value government work to favored contractors, they call it out.

These are the sources for Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index, a comprehensive guide to which governments are clean and which are doing the most egregious dirty.  

“COVID-19 is not just a health and economic crisis,” says Delia Ferreira Rubio, the chair of the Berlin-based NGO. “It’s a corruption crisis.”

And two of the headline stories in Transparency International’s CPI are that corruption in 2020 was rampant in public spending on the Coronavirus pandemic, and that in 2021 and years to come, the pain of the post-pandemic economic recovery will be made worse by government corruption. 

The third headline is that the Corruption Perceptions Index rating for America, in decline for the past few years, plunged in 2020.  

Why? Evidence of misdirected money and contracts as the feds fought the virus? Doubts sown by disinformation that have undermined public faith in their government and its institutions? Old-fashioned graft meets new-fangled manipulation.

The U.S. isn’t South Sudan, Somalia or Syria, the most corrupt countries on the list, but we aren’t New Zealand or Denmark, the two cleanest counties. We never were or will be, but here’s the real point, we’ve fallen farther behind the top countries in corruption-fighting because we ain’t what we used to be. On this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index American ranks #25.


Scott Greytak is the Advocacy Director for the U.S. office of Transparency International, where he manages the office’s legislative and regulatory work on illicit finance, political integrity, and whistleblower protections, as well as overseeing the TI-US Anticorruption Legislation Lab.

Greytak is an anticorruption attorney who has helped lead legislative, legal, and ballot-measure initiatives on campaign finance, voting, foreign influence, ethics, and fair representation. Before joining TI, he helped pass over 20 state and local anticorruption reforms as Senior Counsel for RepresentUs; designed legal challenges to cases such as Citizens United v. FEC as Counsel for a boutique litigation firm; and authored the leading report on judicial corruption in the U.S. as Senior Policy Counsel for Justice at Stake.

He chairs the Legislative Committee of the ACLU of D.C., and was the 2018 American Constitution Society Lawyer Chapter President of the Year. He earned Juris Doctor and Bachelor of Arts degrees from Ohio State University.




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