State Integrity Grade ‘Bolstered’ Need for Reform
By Caitlin Ginley
As the California legislature gears up to vote on the state budget, Republicans are demanding greater transparency in the process, citing a C- grade for the budgeting process from the State Integrity Investigation. California ranked 4th out of all 50 states overall with a grade of B-.
On Monday, Republicans called for a 48-hour public review of the budget plan, allowing time for citizens to voice their concerns to representatives before it goes to a vote. Lawmakers face a constitutional deadline to approve a budget for the new fiscal year by this Friday; the fiscal year kicks off July 1. California Democrats control both legislative chambers, as well as the governor’s office.
Judge’s ruling opened gates for election spending with no disclosure
By Corey Hutchins
Longtime Charleston Mayor Joe Riley had run a lot of high-minded races in this coastal city known for charm and manners, so nothing really prepared him for the bare-knuckle politics he faced in a re-election bid last fall. A shadowy group popped up seemingly out of nowhere and spent an untold amount of secret money to pummel Riley’s record in support of one of his rivals.
None of the mayor’s opponents declared allegiance to the anonymous group that funded TV ads, flyers and a slick website called “The Riley Files” that read like a private investigator's report. The website came complete with images of manila folders titled “Crony Capitalism” and “Misplaced Priorities” along with photos of the mayor paper-clipped to them.
By Corey Hutchins, Columbia Free Times
A Republican state senator in South Carolina known for championing ethics reform legislation has gone down in an upset primary election held June 12.
Mike Rose, who took serious interest in the State Integrity Investigation, a report by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International that gave his state an F grade on its risk for corruption, had planned to introduce a series of reforms based off much of the report next year.
That won't happen.
Challenger Sean Bennett, 44, roundly beat Rose with a grassroots campaign that raised $17,000 compared to the $60,000 that Rose, a 64-year-old former JAG officer, had in his coffers.
By Caitlin Ginley, Center for Public Integrity
A Florida research group released a report yesterday on how to improve the state’s ethics laws, using results from the State Integrity Investigation as a basis for reform. The Sunshine State ranked 18th out of 50 states in the investigation, with an overall grade of C-.
Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes integrity and exposes corruption in state government, has previously held presentations around the state to share the conclusions of the State Integrity Investigation’s corruption risk scorecard for the Sunshine State. The group’s new report, “Corruption Risk Report: Florida Ethics Laws,” identifies key policy changes — such as increasing penalties for ethics violations and creating a corruption report hotline — that could help the state move towards an A grade.
Campaign donations are the most direct way for money to influence politics. As state gubernatorial and legislative candidates begin to ramp up their campaigns for election day, now seems like a good time to draw attention to the laws and practices that govern the political financing of those candidates and their parties.
The State Integrity Investigation results in the political financing category should have a chilling effect on voters who want an honest process behind campaign funding in their state. Only one state got an 'A' grade, and six got a 'B-' or better; at the bottom of the category rankings, 21 states got a grade of 'D-' or worse.
By Caitlin Ginley
Early last month, lawmakers in Iowa completed work on a new open records statute. Senate File 430 creates the Iowa Public Information Board, a nine-member commission charged with enforcing the state’s open records and meetings laws.
For good government advocates in the Hawkeye State, the new legislation was cause for celebration — sort of.
Indeed, there were smiles all around as Gov. Terry Branstad signed the law on May 3 in the ornate Capitol Building, surrounded by lawmakers and journalists — many of whom spent six years on the effort. And the law is undoubtedly a victory of sorts for open government in the state, where enforcement was spotty at best, divided among several local and state entities. If a citizen’s request for information was denied, the only option was to sue — a time-consuming and costly course of action. Now, the Board can investigate complaints and bring them to court on citizens’ behalf.
It all sounds good — except for the fine print.
By Luis Toro, Colorado Ethics Watch
As the first state to pass a Sunshine Law for government meetings, Coloradans are justifiably proud of our state’s history as a leader in safeguarding open government. Our guarantees of public access to government records, however, are not so enviable.
For those of us who routinely use the Colorado Open Records Act (“CORA”) as a way of monitoring how state and local governments are serving their constituents, it was no surprise when the State Integrity Investigation gave Colorado an “F” grade on public access to information. Sadly, Coloradans have allowed our state’s well-known aversion to taxation to trump our desire for open government, while aggressive government lawyers have figured out how to game the system to put citizens seeking public records on the defensive.
As government revenue continues to shrink as a result of a 1992 ballot initiative, cash-strapped state agencies and local governments have become more aggressive about shifting the cost of transparency onto members of the public who ask for information.
By Barry Erwin, Council for a Better Louisiana
One of the first things Buddy Roemer did when he became governor of Louisiana in 1988 was create the Office of Inspector General. He figured, correctly, that the state needed an independent watchdog agency to weed out corruption and misuse of state funds.
Four years later, when former Governor Edwin Edwards and former Klansman David Duke knocked him out of the runoff for re-election, Roemer fought to maintain the office. He got Edwards to promise that if elected he would keep the Office of Inspector General alive. That surprised a lot of people, since Edwards himself had been the target of various federal investigations and later went to jail. But Edwards kept his word, and continued to fund the inspector general position.
Given that history, it caught almost everybody off guard when a couple of weeks ago the Louisiana House of Representatives agreed to an amendment to the 2013 state budget bill that completely eliminated funding for the Office of Inspector General. That’s not a good thing.
By Marko Tomicic, Global Integrity
The public’s trust in politics is at an all time low, as various public opinion polls show. Or is it politicians that people mistrust? How to address these issues and restore the public’s trust in their elected officials? These questions were the focus of the 2012 Leadership Forum, organized by the State Legislative Leaders Foundation and Brown University in Providence on May 10-12.
The conference brought together around 50 legislative leaders from both political parties across the country, an equal number of private sector representatives, and civil society members working on government ethics and accountability. Stephen Lakis, President of the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, Teresa Paiva Weed, President of the Rhode Island Senate, Gordon Fox, Speaker of the Rhode Island House, and Angel Taveras, Mayor of Providence opened the conference.
The State Legislative Leaders Foundation invited Global Integrity and the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) to present the recently released findings of State Integrity Investigation (SII), an evaluation of effectiveness of anti-corruption mechanisms in all US states conducted by Global Integrity, CPI and Public Radio International.
By Mark Cavers, Illinois Policy Institute
In fiscal year 2011, Illinois awarded more than $1.1 billion in grants to nonprofit organizations. Yet few know how exactly this money was used and whether it was used effectively. Why? Because information about state grants often is difficult or impossible for citizens, journalists and elected officials to obtain.
That’s why the Illinois Policy Institute is supporting a measure by state Sens. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) and Kirk Dillard (R-Westmont) to make Illinois’ outdated grant reporting process more transparent.
Illinois Senate Bill 3773 would require grant information to be posted online in a centralized location. A detailed online repository of how grant money is spent and what results are achieved would allow citizens, journalists and government employees to catch fraud and corruption at nonprofits that receive grants from the state.