Certainly all 4 families flex their muscles throughout Italy and beyond its borders, but the strength of corruption's grip is felt most noticeably in the South.
Consider this: although a large flow of cash is continually funneled through political parties and persons in positions of power [reference Silvio Belusconi's rise, fall and subsequent rise to power as an example], Italy's underworld makes it's biggest profits from the lowest common denominator: the public sector. Hence the existence of the "tangenti" better known as the bribe or kickback. Used as a means to buy into businesses and the lucrative contracts that come with it; in areas as diverse as construction, trash removal and produce distribution to name just a few ( Moody 1 ).
The rampant use of the tangenti reached epic heights during the 1980's and 1990's. Paul Ginsborg touches on the phenomenon is his epic volume Italy and It's Discontents where he briefly examines the kickback scandals inherit to the later half of the 90's as well as the murky relationship between seven-time Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti and the Mafia. Money wasn't buying power so much as it was buying position. Consider one of the most well known Italian kickback scandals of the last 20 years involving computer giant Olivetti.
In a face-to-face admission with Milan prosecutors, Olivetti Chief executive officer Carlo De Benedetti confessed that his company $6.8 million in tangenti between 1988 and the end of 1991. Most of the money, he said, was funneled to the Socialist and Christian Democrat parties in return for contracts to nearly $400 million worth of computers and printers to Italy’s national postal service (Moody 4). Why the motivation to play with the bad guys? Before Olivetti involved itself in tangenti, the company's annual sales to the post office totaled just over $1 million. The next year after tangenti payments kicked in and money was delivered to the political parties Olivetti revenues soared to nearly 4150 million. A coincidence Recalled De Benedetti:
When I stopped paying, we (Olivetti) didn't get
any more business with the Italian post office.
But what hurt more is that our business outside
of Italy suffered. It was impossible to sell any-
anything to the Dutch, for instance, since we
couldn't get a good reference any longer from
within Italy. (Moody 3)
Thirty years later and same type of hardball is still played. As recently as 5 October 2005, Federal investigators were unraveling a huge kickback scandal involving the Mafia and construction companies bidding for multi-million dollar lucrative contracts to build a bridge that will link Reggio Calabria and Mesina and cut travel time in half.(La Republica, 6).
In sharp contrast, it's not like Italians haven't at least tried to rebel against this type of underhandedness. Widespread state corruption, historically endemic in the country, accelerated during the 1980's and both the ruling parties were systematically involved in clientism, and stealing from the public purse. The mafia thrived thanks to collusions of the state. Key figures in Italy's various crime families did deals with politicians which guaranteed votes of immunity