Virginia lawmakers have moved to strengthen the state’s modest ethics laws, approving reform legislation that seeks to reign in excessive gifts to public officials. Even before the bill passed, however, critics had already begun deriding the effort as little more than a gesture, and it remains unclear whether new Gov. Terry McAuliffe will sign the measure in its existing form.
Virginia has among the least restrictive ethics laws in the nation, and the issue has become front-page news in the Old Dominion. The state received a grade of F from the State Integrity Investigation, a 2012 survey of ethics and transparency laws carried out by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International. And the legislature had come under intense public pressure to strengthen those laws after news broke last year that former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his family had received at least $165,000 in gifts — most of which were not disclosed — from a political supporter.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo thrust ethics and campaign finance reforms to the top of his legislative agenda yesterday by including the controversial subjects in his 2014 budget proposal. The Empire state had ranked poorly in a national review of ethics and transparency laws by the State Integrity Investigation.
In a speech to the Legislature, Cuomo said the state has become a model for progress in policy areas from education to health care, but that a wave of public corruption cases threatens to undermine those efforts.
No more Rolexes. No more all-expenses-paid holidays. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe put an end to some of these lavish shows of political affection on Saturday, his first day in office, signing an executive order that bars the governor and executive branch employees from accepting gifts worth more than $100.
The move came in the wake of poor grades from the State Integrity Investigation and a protracted scandal that plagued McAuliffe’s predecessor, Republican former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. McDonnell is under investigation by federal authorities in connection with a series of gifts he and his family received from a Virginia business executive.
It wasn’t quite cold enough to need a vest on a mid-November Texas morning, but Matt Dossey was wearing one anyway. Made of heavy-weight beige canvas, the vest just might have been concealing a pistol. There was no way to tell. Perhaps that was the point.
Dossey is the superintendent at Jonesboro Independent School District, a compound of three low, pale-brick buildings sandwiched between broad oak trees in the back and a horse pasture across the road up front. Jonesboro is a tiny community nestled in the rolling Texas scrubland 110 miles north of Austin, but aside from the schools, a post office and two churches, there’s little to suggest a town.
In January, the district adopted a policy of arming a select group of staff members with concealed weapons as a deterrent and defense against a potential school shooter. Jonesboro straddles the border between Coryell and Hamilton counties, and it’s more than 15 miles to the nearest sheriff’s department. The town is unincorporated, so it has no government and no police. If someone were to attack the school, Dossey said, no one’s coming to protect the kids — not quickly, anyway.
The offices of the Arizona Commerce Authority are housed in downtown Phoenix at the Freeport-McMoRan Center, the gleaming glass headquarters of an international mining firm of the same name. The authority, which oversees state corporate tax incentives and grants worth hundreds of millions of dollars, is not quite a public agency, as its location two miles east of the state government complex suggests. It’s led by a board of directors run by the governor and Jerry Colangelo, who, after four decades as an Arizona sports and real estate mogul, is a local icon. Sixteen other corporate executives also sit on the board, including Richard Adkerson, President and CEO of Freeport, to which the authority paid about $411,000 in state funds last fiscal year for renting the space.
There’s a name for this arrangement. The Commerce Authority is a “quasi-public” entity, or a public-private partnership. About 10 other states have also given control over lucrative corporate tax incentives to similar organizations, which are often run by the states’ most influential businessmen, generally at the pleasure of the governor. Supporters say these partnerships are more nimble than government bureaucracies and are insulated from the vagaries of electoral politics. But both liberal and conservative watchdog groups say the practice takes a government function already prone to mismanagement and obfuscation and makes the situation worse by giving oversight of business incentives to businesses themselves.
It wasn’t long ago that virtually no one outside of health care policy circles had heard of the navigator program, an obscure provision of the Obama Administration’s sweeping health care overhaul. But the navigators have suddenly become the latest Obamacare controversy, and the attention may be starting to undermine the program.
As the Center reported last month, 16 states have passed laws regulating so-called navigators: groups and individuals funded by state and federal grants that are supposed to help people sign up for health insurance on the online exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.
Early in the summer of 2009, when lawmakers were starting work on what would become the largest health care overhaul in decades, the industry associations that represent insurance agents and brokers caught wind of an obscure provision.
The plan called for state and federal governments to hire so-called “navigators” — members of social service organizations, advocacy groups, even chambers of commerce — to help people use the new online marketplaces created by the law to choose among insurance plans and enroll in coverage.
The navigator program garnered little attention in the midst of the larger legislative battle. But agents and brokers, worried that navigators would cut into their business, immediately took aim, labeling the initiative “reckless” and “ill-advised.”
By Naomi Schalit and John Christie
AUGUSTA -- Maine’s "F" grade from the State Integrity Investigation has led to a number of reforms in the state's ethics rules this year, including a bipartisan transparency bill proposed by Gov. Paul LePage that he signed into law last week.
The reforms also include two bills signed by the governor to stop the so-called “revolving door” at the statehouse, where lawmakers and executive branch officials leave government service and go directly to work as lobbyists.
When investigators examined the operations of a sprawling New York social service organization, what they uncovered was deeply troubling. Board members of the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council had almost no experience in nonprofit management. Several couldn’t name any of the group’s programs. Two of them could not identify the executive director, who in turn told investigators she was unaware of a fraudulent scheme carried out under her watch: Employees had squandered or stolen most of an $80,000 city grant.
As a result of that July 2010 report by New York City’s Department of Investigation, both the city and state quickly pulled the plug, suspending the organization’s grants, which provide practically all of its funding. But just as quick, the Brooklyn-based group won back it’s government support on the condition that it enact corrective measures, and today, the council has active grants from the city and the state totaling more than $50 million. Maybe that’s because the organization provides critical services, such as senior care and affordable housing, as a city spokeswoman said when funding was restored. But the council may also be thriving because its founder, Vito Lopez, was for years one of New York’s most powerful politicians — a state legislator who spent much of his career channeling that power through Ridgewood Bushwick.
South Carolina’s legislative session came to a close Thursday with a conspicuous absence: ethics reform. While the House passed an ethics bill April 30, and the Senate appeared to be briskly moving the measure through its own legislative process, in the end the upper chamber failed to garner enough support for the bill before the session’s clock ran out.
The measure would have required that legislators begin disclosing their sources of income, while limiting independent political spending and giving an independent Ethics Commission authority to investigate complaints brought against lawmakers. But by most accounts, the bill’s defeat had little to do with its contents.