If every state in the U.S. were graded on its integrity, none would pass with an A. In fact, half the states would deserve D’s or F’s.
That’s according to The Center of Public Integrity’s recent state integrity investigation report, which assessed the transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms in all 50 states.
So, what’s preventing the majority of states from earning passing grades? The stories abound, according to the report.
Open records laws with hundreds of exemptions. Crucial budgeting decisions made behind closed doors by a handful of power brokers. “Citizen” lawmakers voting on bills that would benefit them directly. Scores of legislators turning into lobbyists seemingly overnight. Disclosure laws without much disclosure. Ethics panels that haven’t met in years.
State officials make lofty promises when it comes to ethics in government. They tout the transparency of legislative processes, accessibility of records, and the openness of public meetings. But these efforts often fall short of providing any real transparency or legitimate hope of rooting out corruption.
The five states that earned the highest marks, a B grade, for integrity are: New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California and Nebraska. The five worst performing states are: Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia.
The report noted that such states as Illinois, New Jersey and Louisiana, long known for dirty politics, have successfully enacted reform measures. Click here to see detailed information on how your state ranked.
“Legislators will react to a corruption scandal and work to get political cover by enacting reform,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, vice president for state operations at the nonprofit advocacy group Common Cause.
The report concluded that “across the board, state ethics, open records and disclosure laws lack one key feature: teeth.”
“It’s a terrible problem,” said Tim Potts, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Democracy Rising PA, which works to inspire citizen trust in government. “A good law isn’t worth anything if it’s not enforced.”
My state of Montana was in 31st place with an overall grade of D+. Montana performed well (earning an A) on redistricting and internal auditing. The worst grades came from public access to information, judicial accountability, state pension fund management, lobbying disclosure and ethics enforcement agencies, all areas where Montana earned a shameful F.
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