Monday, March 26, 2012

How corrupt is your state?

The Center for Public Integrity has just completed its State Integrity Investigation and on the surface there is no state that stands out in the ratings.  Except maybe New Jersey, in part because of its improvement over past history of corruption in government.  NJ is number one, Georgia is last.  The investigation is the first of its kind to assess transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms in all 50 states.  Not one state earned an “A” rating and eight received an “F.”

The Center for Public Integrity says: "In every state, there's room to improve the ethics laws, the level of transparency on government proceedings, the disclosure of information, and — most importantly — the oversight of these laws.”  One of the major findings was that even when ethics laws are passed, they are tough to enforce and often don’t carry meaningful charges. 

Those states with histories of corruption often have the toughest laws that expose the scandals.  On the other hand, with fewer regulations in place, a state is likely not to identify these problems.  The research included 330 corruption risk indicators across 14 government categories including:

Access to information, campaign finance, executive accountability, legislative accountability, judicial accountability, budgeting, civil service management, procurement, internal auditing, lobbying disclosure, pension fund management, ethics enforcement, insurance commissions, and redistricting.

Georgia state flag

The five states with a “B” rating were New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California and Florida in that order.  In the “Cs,” this group totaled nineteen with Mississippi first and Wisconsin last.  The “Ds” went to another 18 states, Minnesota first, Nevada last.  Eight getting an “F” rating with Michigan first and Georgia last.  Check your state here, which includes the actual score it received.   
SII singled out some states for blatant violations that justified mentioning: Tennessee
established its ethics commission six years ago, but has yet to issue a single ethics penalty.  Can’t know if it’s even working since complaints are kept secret; North Carolina legislator sponsored and voted on a bill to loosen regulations on billboard construction, even though he co-owned five billboards in the state; 650 Georgia govt. employees accepted illegal gifts from vendors.

As far as the measurements used by the Integrity Index, several methods are employed, one recently naming Chicago as the most corrupt city in the U.S. and New York as the most corrupt state.  And these are February numbers released by the University of IllinoisInstitute of Government and Public Affairs, based on public corruption conviction data from the Department of Justice.  Although New Jersey beat its bad rap, the windy City can’t seem to shake it off.

The State Integrity Index researched the 330 “Integrity Indicators” across 14 categories of state government covered above.  “Indicators assess what laws, if any, are on the books (‘in law’ indicator) and whether the laws are effective in practice (‘in practice’ indicators). In many states, the disconnect between scores on a state’s law and scores in practice suggest a serious “enforcement gap.”  The laws may be there but just aren’t followed.

Arizona state flag
A classic case that received nationwide attention was when Arizona’s legislators admitted to violating the state’s financial disclosure policy after failing to report trips paid for by the Fiesta Bowl. Neither the Senate nor the House Ethics committee followed with an investigation.  One of the major offenders was State Senator Russell Pearce, who was later recalled in an election that was the first of its kind in the U.S.  He is running again for the state Senate.

Video of Fiesta Bowl scandal

The Center for Public Integrity’s State Integrity Investigation looks at one side of the corruption issue that evaluates your state’s standing in passing and enforcing laws that apply to how the state operates.  However, there is a sinister movement going on across the country today sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that could literally destroy states citizens’ rights.  More on this and ALEC’s connection to the NRA later.

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