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.
By Dixie Huefner, Utahns for Ethical Government
The Utah Legislature currently has an ethical code of conduct that is so vague and general as to be unenforceable, as acknowledged by the Legislature’s own House Ethics Committee. For several years, the media has reported the inadequacy of the Legislature’s ethical code and the support of citizens for an Independent Ethics Commission—to no avail.
Utahns for Ethical Government, a nonpartisan citizen group, drafted an ethics initiative with hopes of getting the issue before Utah’s registered voters. The initiative calls for an independent ethics commission to investigate complaints of legislative misconduct and recommend sanctions. The legislature would retain final authority on discipline of its members, as the Utah Constitution requires.
Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) was formed by former Republican state legislators, Democratic community activists, and independent good-government folks. The people behind UEG were alarmed by what they perceived as a decline in the ethical standards, transparency, and accountability of the Utah Legislature.
By Wally Roberts, Common Cause Vermont
For the fourth year in a row, an attempt to reform Vermont’s campaign finance law failed, as political maneuvering, this time under the guise of observing the niceties of parliamentary procedures, killed the bill in the final days of the session.
The bill, including an amendment which would have banned contributions from corporations, was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the motion of its chair, Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, because, he said, the bill “raise(s) constitutional issues.’ Sears acknowledged that the bill had no chance of emerging from his committee in the seven days left in the session.
An assistant attorney general had testified earlier in the year that her office saw no constitutional problems with the original bill. The amendment banning corporate contributions, sponsored by former U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith (D-Windham) was modeled on the federal Tillman Act of 1907, the constitutionality of which has been repeatedly upheld.
By Caitlin Ginley, Center for Public Integrity
Iowa’s only F grade on the State Integrity Investigation was in the category of public access to information, partly due to a lack of strong enforcement measures.
But Governor Terry Branstad signed a bill last week that would create the Iowa Public Information Board, a nine-member commission that will oversee and enforce the state’s open records laws. The governor noted that the lack of enforcement was highlighted by the State Integrity Investigation and affected Iowa’s overall grade. Iowa ranked 7th among the 50 states and earned an overall grade of C+.
“Hopefully this will move us up from [C+] to a better grade,” Branstad said at the signing on May 3.
By Megan Rhyne, Virginia Coalition for Open Government
Last Thursday I spent my morning with a group of government employees -- 60 of them from all over Virginia, in both local and state government -- whose job it is to manage their agency’s records, to respond to requests under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, or both.
They were there to learn tips, techniques and strategies for better records management. The theory is that the better shape your records are in, the easier it will be to manage FOIA requests. A records analyst from the Library of Virginia helped them understand retention, archiving and proper destruction of public records. A city’s deputy communication director talked about how an agency can implement a citizen-centric FOIA-response policy. The director of the state agency tasked with informally mediating FOIA disputes talked about how even email on private computers is subject to FOIA if it has to do with the public’s business.
They were all there because of me. I’m not in government. Never have been.
By Kent Flanagan, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government
Secrecy seemed to be a common thread running through the session of the Tennessee Legislature that ended May 1. The latest “secret” revealed is that key members of the Legislature met on April 23 at a Nashville restaurant of the session to work out deals on amendments to the governor’s $34.1 billion state budget proposal.
The secret session was revealed in an Associated Press story filed the following day. No one in the Legislature or the governor’s office seemed upset that the meeting was held or revealed in news stories. But a representative of Gov. Bill Haslam did take care to note that no one from the governor’s office participated in the weekend meeting.
Tennessee political reporters and observer s know that this happens near the end of every legislative session in Tennessee. And it’s the reason the State Integrity Investigation, a national project to determine the potential for corruption in all 50 states, gave Tennessee a score of 0 out of a possible 100 on whether the "state budgetary process is conducted in a transparent manner."
By Dan Krassner, Integrity Florida
Taxpayers in the Sunshine State are being kept in the dark about how our money is spent on economic development projects.
Enterprise Florida, my state’s official economic development organization, is secretly planning new tax-dollar giveaways with code names like "Project Bacon," "Project Mae West," "Project Suite Spot" and "Project Snake Eyes." A review of an Orlando Sentinel database uncovered that Enterprise Florida has given Walmart more than $18 million over the years. It's also given money to GE, Coca-Cola, Burger King and a long list of other companies.
I am not opposed to economic incentives that attract new jobs and capital investment, but Enterprise Florida must operate with more accountability, performance metrics and transparency.
Every year Paul Spencer teaches the U.S. Constitution to the students in his government and politics class at Catholic High School For Boys in Little Rock, Arkansas. Over the last few years, Spencer found himself increasingly upset as he recited the words and recounted the intent of America’s founders.
“I noticed myself getting a little more angry every consecutive year about how things are in government, as opposed to how they are in the textbook,” Spencer said.
Now, Spencer and a group of motivated Arkansas citizens are doing what they can to change the way government operates in their state. Spencer is the leader of Regnat Populus 2012, the organization behind a grassroots movement to pass new ethics laws in Arkansas through a citizen-led ballot initiative. If Spencer’s group obtains the required number of signatures, the people of Arkansas will have the chance to push back against big money in government, double the time a lawmaker has to wait before becoming a lobbyist, and prohibit gift-giving from lobbyists to lawmakers.
Regnat Populus 2012 takes its name from the Latin for phrase “The people rule,” an expression that serves as Arkansas’ state motto, and which Paul Spencer and his partners hope to prove is still true.