Sunshine Review names 2012 "Sunny Awards" winners for transparency in government

Corruption news from Sunshine Review

For the 2012 awards, Editors at Sunshine Review analyzed more than 6,000 government websites and graded each on a 10-point transparency checklist. Editors looked at content available on government websites against what should be provided. They sought information on items such as budgets, meetings, lobbying, financial audits, contracts, academic performance, public records and taxes. The winners of the Sunny Award all received an “A” grade during the extensive grading process.

Six states earned nearly half of the 214 Sunny Awards given. The leading states were Florida (28), Texas (21), Illinois (19), Virginia (14), Ohio (10) and Pennsylvania (10). In addition, ten states earned an “A” grade for their state government website including, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, New York, California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington and West Virginia.

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Utah legislature approves new ethics board for local governments

Corruption news for Utah, from the Daily Herald:

Utah's lawmakers have given final approval to a bill that would create an ethics commission that cities, counties and special districts could turn to when investigating ethics complaints.On Tuesday Utah's House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 180, then the Senate approved the minor tweaks the House made and sent the bill to Gov. Gary Herbert's desk for his signature or veto.

"There is currently no independent forum to hear complaints directly from citizens," said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, the sponsor of the bill. "This will fix that."

Read the rest of the story at the Daily Herald.

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South Carolina lieutenant governor faces indictment for campaign finance violations

Corruption news for South Carolina, from the Post and Courier:

It's unclear how much longer Lt. Gov. Ken Ard will be able to remain on the job. The Florence Republican and businessman, now into his second year in the part-time position, soon may learn if a state grand jury will indict him.

Just weeks after taking the oath of office, Ard came under scrutiny for his campaign spending, particularly $24,832 he spent after the 2010 election. The State Ethics Commission then accused Ard of 92 violations, including using campaign money for personal purposes. He paid the second-highest ethics fine in the state's history.

Read the rest of the story at the Post and Courier.

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New Jersey lobbyists spent record $73 million in 2011

Corruption news for New Jersey, from New Jersey Newsroom:

New Jersey lobbyists spent a record $73.2 million in 2011, including $15.2 million on heavy mass media advertising, Jeff Brindle, state Election Law Enforcement Commission director, announced Wednesday. The spending represented an 11.2 percent increase over the 2010 total of nearly $66 million and marked the fourth straight year that total expenditures by lobbyists were up.

“The 21st century certainly has arrived for lobbyists in New Jersey,’’ Brindle said. “Lobbyists are depending more and more on mass media communications in their effort to influence public policy.”

Read the rest of the story at New Jersey Newsroom.

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Bill giving Florida Gov. Rick Scott more control over courts loses steam

Corruption news for Florida, from the Miami Herald:

A proposal to give Gov. Rick Scott more power over the courts appeared dead Wednesday amid a disagreement whether Scott should have the power to fire people appointed by former-Gov. Charlie Crist to a panel that helps select judges.The panels, known as Judicial Nominating Commissions, screen potential judicial nominees for the governor. A House bill, HB 971, would allow Scott to fire Crist’s appointees and replace them with his own.

Democrats said the proposal consolidated too much power in the hands of the governor.

Read the rest of the story at the Miami Herald.

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Pennsylvania legislator convicted in second corruption trial

Corruption news for Pennsylvania, from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Former high-ranking Democratic state Rep. Mike Veon and his ex-aide were found guilty Monday of charges related to the misuse of taxpayer grants directed to the Beaver County lawmaker's nonprofit organization.The ex-lawmaker from Beaver Falls was facing his second corruption trial in less than two years. He previously was convicted in 2010 in the state attorney general's legislative probe.

In the latest proceeding, he was accused of improperly spending portions of the $10 million in taxpayer-funded grants that he secured for the Beaver Initiative for Growth.

Read the rest of the story at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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North Carolina spent $695,000 in legal fees for redistricting

Corruption news for North Carolina, from the Charlotte Observer:

North Carolina has paid several times as much on outside attorneys hired by Republican lawmakers for advice on new district boundaries and defending them as similar counsel was paid in the previous redistricting round, according to records and invoices.Responding to public records requests by multiple media outlets, the General Assembly released documents showing the state has paid $695,049 since March 2011 to two firms - one based in South Carolina and another in Washington.

In the redistricting litigation that began in 2001, the state paid $131,475 in similar legal expenses, according to information accumulated at the request of an attorney working for the Senate.

Read the rest of the story at the Charlotte Observer.

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Potential Arkansas gubernatorial opponents spar over use of public funds

Corruption news for Arkansas, from Arkansas News:

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (pictured, right) today announced a $350,000 public awareness campaign entitled “Got Your Back, Arkansas to promote his office’s Consumer Protection Division. The announcement drew criticism from Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, a Republican and potential 2014 gubernatorial opponent McDaniel who accused the Democratic attorney general of running what amount to political campaign ads at public expense.

Funding for the campaign comes from an $18.5 million settlement the attorney general’s office reached with Eli Lilly in 2010 over what the state alleged was marketing of the drug Zyprexa for uses not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Darr said today on his personal Twitter account, “I wish my office had millions at its disposal to run my campaign ads.”

Read the rest of the story at Arkansas News.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger fined for campaign finance violations

Corruption news for California, from the Los Angeles Times:

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger faces $30,000 in fines by the state’s campaign watchdog agency after a ballot measure committee he formed allegedly spent $1.1 million on matters unrelated to initiatives.

The ballot measure committee spent the money in 2009 on television and Internet advertisements outlining Schwarzenegger’s position on the budget negotiations that were going on at the time when he was battling Democratic lawmakers over rival spending plans. That violated the Political Reform Act requiring money from such committees to be spent related to local or state ballot measures, according to the stipulated agreement.

Read the rest of the story at the Los Angeles Times.

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Arizona legislators want control of state energy policy

Corruption news for Arizona, from the Arizona Capitol Times:

A bill co-sponsored by 30 Republican lawmakers would make any new policy guidelines or rule changes by the Arizona Corporation Commission subject to approval by the Legislature and the governor. Supporters of the proposal say it would help protect consumers from unnecessary surcharges. But critics say the plan threatens the growth of the state’s solar industry.

Also, the bill echoes lawmakers’ concerns over whether the five-member utility commission should have final decision-making authority rather than the 90-member Legislature.

Read the rest of the story at the Arizona Capitol Times.

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