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.
When Texas’s biennial legislative session began earlier this year, many advocates for tougher ethics laws sounded an upbeat tone. Since a large crop of new lawmakers was coming aboard, some said at the time, 2013 was the year for bold reform.
But on Sunday, the legislature ended those hopes. An ethics bill was indeed passed, but it failed to include most provisions that watchdogs had pushed for. During a conference committee between the Senate and the House, lawmakers stripped several amendments that would have required online financial disclosure, exposed “dark money” in state campaigns and required lawmakers to disclose financial interests in businesses that receive state contracts.
Editor's note, May 23 —A local Virginia prosecutor is examining whether Gov. Robert McDonnell violated state disclosure laws by failing to report a 2011 gift from a campaign donor. The investigation, first reported Wednesday by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, began in November at the request of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli
A series of revelations and stinging media reports about Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell’s relationship with a corporate executive is bringing new attention to the state’s forgiving accountability laws—a subject highlighted last year by the State Integrity Investigation.
The root of the uproar is a $15,000 catering tab for the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter back in 2011, quietly paid by Jonnie Williams Sr., the CEO of Star Scientific, a Glen Allen, Va.-based dietary supplement company. Now the news, first reported in late March by the Washington Post, is dominating conversation in the state’s political circles and raising questions about Virginia’s liberal allowances for gifts to politicians: there is no limit.
Gov. Nathan Deal brought Georgia in line with nearly every other state in the nation Monday by signing into law the state’s first restrictions on lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers. Deal’s action puts in place the first major piece of ethics reform Georgia has passed in decades.
Until now, lobbyists in the Peach State had been free to lavish legislators with gifts and junkets of any size. But starting next year, they’ll be forbidden from spending more than $75 per gift.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a package of reform bills Wednesday night, bringing final approval for the first major overhaul of the state’s ethics laws in more than three decades. The two bills give significant new powers to the state’s ethics commission, extend a ban on lobbying for lawmakers after they leave office and rework the state’s campaign finance limits.
The new ethics legislation will address at least some of the weaknesses responsible for Florida’s overall grade of C- from the State Integrity Investigation, a state-by-state ranking of ethics and accountability released last year by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International. In the specific category of ethics enforcement, the Sunshine State had received an F.