Corruption Risk Report Card
Rank among 50 states: 4th

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The story behind the score

California scored relatively highly on the State Integrity Index, but the state could improve in such areas as campaign finance enforcement and pension fund management. Read more from SII State Reporters Carol Goodhue Shull and Robert Shull.

Latest state news for California

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.

A California organization receives $11 million from another group based in Arizona, which received the cash from a separate group, which in turn had it funneled from a fourth, based near Washington, D.C. Drug cartel money headed for an offshore account?  No, just state electioneering in a post-Citizens United world.

The current state of campaign finance affairs, laid out in a report Thursday from Stateline, exemplifies how the growing role of independent national political groups is causing problems for state officials trying to enforce their own election laws. Independent spending had unprecedented influence on state elections this year, with millions of dollars in corporate and other outside money shaping races across the country.

By Mike Mullendoor_opening2.jpg

A simple Google search will produce a map and directions on how to find the state capitol, where staffers can help citizens locate legislative chambers and hearing rooms. But this seemingly easy access hardly guarantees that what takes place in open meetings is a reliable predictor for the laws that will govern the state.

Aside from regulations on legislators’ potential conflicts of interest, the Legislative Accountability category also assessed the openness of each state’s lawmaking process. These corruption risk indicators are more difficult to judge by face value, so state reporters turned to statehouse veterans who had been trying to access and influence the legislature. In state after state, sources reported that it is often hard to actually observe the sausage as it is being produced, which helps to explain the oft-surprising flavor it takes on when finally released for public consumption.


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.

State integrity news for California, from California Watch:

In a state with nearly 38 million people, few have more influence than the top 100 donors to California campaigns – a powerful club that has donated overwhelmingly to Democrats and spent $1.25 billion to influence voters over the past dozen years.

These big spenders represent a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of individuals and groups that donated to California campaigns from 2001 through 2011. But they supplied about a third of the $3.67 billion lavished on state campaigns during that time, campaign records show.

Read the rest of the story at California Watch.

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