New Study: Political Corruption Rampant in No Less Than 8 States

It's safe to say many Americans are suspicious about the ever-complicated relationships between politicians and lobbyists, even within local governments, but that we can only speculate as to the backroom deals that go down beyond the public's view. That is, until now: the State Integrity Investigation, an unprecedented new study on local corruption, has exposed how rampant corruption is at the state government level, with eight states earning an "F" grade on the A-F scale. Not a single state earned an A, and only five got a B—including, perhaps surprisingly, New Jersey, Nebraska, Connecticut, Washington, and California. 

The Center used a grading system based on several factors, gathering data from state reporters and "nearly 100" state organizations regarding corruption practices within their governments. From there, they determined the risks and actual level of corruption, resulting in eight states receiving an F grade—Michigan, North Dakota, South Carolina, Wyoming, Maine, Virginia, South Dakota, and Georgia. Here's why, via the Center for Public Integrity:

 

Some of the results of the State Integrity Investigation seem more than a little counterintuitive. New Jersey emerges at the top of the pack, a seemingly stunning ranking for a state with a reputation for dirty politics. And there are other surprises: Illinois, hardly a beacon of clean governmental in recent years, comes in at a respectable number 10. Louisiana ranks 15th.

Many of the states at the bottom of the rankings, meanwhile, are sparsely-populated Western or Plains states like Idaho (40th), Wyoming (48th) and the Dakotas (North Dakota is number 43 and South Dakota comes in at 49). There, libertarianism roots, a small-town, neighborly approach to government and the honest belief that “everybody knows everybody” has overridden any perceived need for strong protections in law.

The Center details some specific instances of corruption, including a governor in West Virginia whose "test drive" of a vehicle from a local car dealership lasted four years (and garnered the dealership millions in state contracts), and a huge swathe of Georgia's public employees receiving gifts from state vendors despite clear ethics laws. And as for accountability?

In every state, citizens have the basic right to access government records. But nearly every law is riddled with holes. Vermont’s Public Records Act boasts more than 260 exemptions, one of which almost always seems to apply to a request for information. Virginia’s law excludes the State Corporation Commission, a regulatory agency that oversees all businesses, utilities, financial institutions, and railroads in the state. Louisiana includes an exemption for records that are part of the “deliberative process” in the governor’s office, which could mean anything from budget negotiations to communications between the governor and his staff. Wyoming lawmakers excluded themselves from the state’s open records policy to prevent citizens from having access to the early bill-writing process. In effect, draft legislation and all related documents are withheld from the public.

Clearly, more rigid legislation needs to be put in place across the board. Read the full piece here and check out the study (and see where your state ranks) here

 

AlterNet / By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Posted at March 19, 2012, 5:10am