Hawaii, as the Aloha State, has once again acquired the somewhat undesirable title of being the most corrupt city in the United States, according to a recent review undertaken by the Institute for Corruption Studies at Illinois State University.
Honolulu, the state capital of Hawaii, is at the vanguard of this unsettling distinction. According to the comprehensive analysis covering the years 1976 to 2024, Honolulu stands out with the greatest percentage of convictions for public corruption per capita. This unfortunate list also includes other significant cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.
Factors Contributing to Hawaii s Corruption
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Oguzhan Dincer, the economist who wrote the report and who also serves as the Institute for Corruption Studies’ director, points to a number of causes for Hawaii’s high levels of corruption, including:
Historical Legacy: Political and economic disparity has been left by Hawaii’s history of colonization, annexation, and statehood. This has created a culture in which loyalty, favoritism, and personal ties are frequently valued more highly than integrity, accountability, and openness.
Geographic Vulnerability: Hawaii is vulnerable to outside influences because of its isolated location and reliance on tourism and military funding. By working with local politicians and officials who accept bribes, kickbacks, and campaign contributions in exchange for support and influence, foreign investors, lobbyists, and contractors take use of the state’s resources.
Institutional Weakness: Since the Democratic Party has dominated Hawaii’s state legislature since 1954, there has been less political variety, which lowers checks and balances and encourages the abuse of power. It is difficult for the state’s underfunded legal system to successfully prosecute and punish cases of corruption.
Illustrative Examples of Corruption in Hawaii
In Hawaii, corruption exists in every branch and at every level of government, as demonstrated by the following significant cases:
Kealoha Scandal: of 2019, a conspiracy and obstruction of justice were revealed by the conviction of Louis Kealoha, the former chief of police of Honolulu, and his wife Katherine. In order to cover up financial fraud and theft, their scheme comprised framing a cousin for mailbox theft. Charges of power abuse, record-keeping fraud, evidence tampering, lying to investigators, and civil rights violations were brought against a number of police enforcement authorities.
Rail Project: The Honolulu rail project, which was started in 2005 to relieve traffic congestion, ran into problems with poor management, corruption, and cost overruns. Due to ongoing delays, the project’s cost, which was initially estimated to be $5.3 billion, exploded to $12.4 billion. Fraud, waste, misuse, and conflicts of interest involving contractors, consultants, authorities, and politicians were exposed by federal investigations and audits.
Bishop Estate: Originally established as a private school system and trust in 1887, the Kamehameha Schools (previously known as Bishop Estate) was embroiled in controversies including allegations of trustee misconduct, self-dealing, nepotism, and breaches of fiduciary duty. With assets above $10 billion, the estate’s problems highlight Hawaii’s structural corruption issues.
The Institute for Corruption Studies claims that Honolulu, Hawaii, is the most corrupt city in the country. According to economist Oguzhan Dincer’s research, which covers convictions for public corruption per capita from 1976 to 2024, historical injustices, geographic vulnerability, and institutional flaws—most notably the Democratic Party’s long-standing dominance—are to blame for this classification. Significant cases of corruption, including as the Kealoha Scandal, the Bishop Estate Scandal, and issues with the Honolulu rail project, eloquently demonstrate how ubiquitous corruption is in Hawaii’s government at all levels.