Editorial: Open the South Carolina legislature

Corruption news for South Carolina, from The State:

That legislative secrecy provision is one of the broadest exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act, effectively shielding one of the three branches of government from important public disclosure requirements.

But that could be changing. The House Judiciary Committee voted 19-2 last week to strip away the legislative exemption, and require legislators to follow the same open-records law as everybody else in state and local government, from the governor down to the most obscure clerk laboring in the bowels of the bureaucracy.

Read the rest of the story at The State.

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Wisconsin Supreme Court votes to end open conferences

Corruption news for Wisconsin, from the Appleton Post-Crescent:

A sharply divided Wisconsin Supreme Court voted Monday to end its longstanding practice of discussing court administrative matters in open conference. The state Supreme Court in 1999 became what was believed to be the first court in the nation to open its discussions of administrative matters to the public.

The change was backed at the time by Justice Patrick Crooks, who said Monday that closing these meetings would be "a major step backward" and "a terrible thing" for the court to do. "I think it's vitally important that the public be able to see what we do and how we do it," Crooks said. "This would be a major mistake, to close what has been open."

Read the rest of the story at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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Utah politicians benefit from "anonymous" donations

Corruption news for Utah, from the Deseret News:

Rep. Kraig Powell describes it as "strange issue, a strange problem." Some candidates for elected office — most often local school boards or city councils — receive sizable anonymous campaign contributions. They sometimes appear in the form of an envelope of cash left on the doorstep of their homes.

The problem is, the anonymous donations sometimes exceed the $50 limit allowed by law.

"This is a huge loophole," said Powell, R-Heber.

Read the rest of the story at the Deseret News.

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South Dakota corporate tax rebates kept secret

Corruption news for South Dakota, from the Argus Leader:

To better gauge how the money is spent, the Argus Leader requested copies of the applications each company must fill out to qualify for the construction rebate program. The single-page application includes a project description, company officers, an estimated cost, construction dates and the name of the contractor.

But the Department of Revenue denied the request on grounds that the application is tax information and therefore private. Subsequent requests to have the department provide only the information, or summaries of it, rather than copies of the actual applications, also were denied. The department’s legal staff said disclosing the information would be a crime.

Read the rest of the story at the Argus Leader.

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California bill would publicize whistleblower complaints

Corruption news for California, from the Orange County Register:

Under state law, whistleblower complaints of waste, fraud and abuse are sealed at public agencies — and Joe Citizen is never told of any findings or actions that are taken in response. A new bill by State Sen. Leland Yee (pictured, right), D-San Francisco, would change that.

Senate Bill 1336 would require public agencies to disclose the findings of whisleblower complaints, but would still protect the anonymity of the whistleblowers, witnesses and anyone cleared of wrongdoing.

Read the rest of the story at the Orange County Register.

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Nevada lawmakers spent campaign money on personal expenses

Corruption news for Nevada, from the Las Vegas Sun:

The seven lawmakers originally sought to keep those expenditures secret, following the advice of their lawyer, who said they didn’t have to report expenses that were not directly related to campaign efforts. Secretary of State Ross Miller disagreed, saying a failure to disclose any expenditure from a campaign fund is likely a violation of the state’s campaign finance laws.

After the Sun reported the secret expenses, the Democrats then reversed course and filed new expense reports, detailing nearly $45,000 in campaign fund spending on a slew of living expenses during the legislative session in Carson City. These included rent, electronics, house cleaning and supplies, groceries, lunches and dinners at Carson City restaurants and even bottled water.

Read the rest of the story at the Las Vegas Sun.

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Gov. Rick Perry's disclosure revealed Texas pension trick

Corruption news for Texas, from the Texas Tribune:

An obscure 1991 provision dealing with state pension benefits was only a few paragraphs long, and it escaped public notice at the time. Even the lawmakers who passed it said they did not know what the fine print accomplished until it became law.

But 20 years later, Gov. Rick Perry (pictured, right) — and an elite group of other veteran politicians — can thank Government Code 813.503 for the lucrative pension benefits they are allowed to collect without leaving office. Politicians’ pension records are private, so it is unknown how many are taking advantage of the provision.

Read the rest of the story at the Texas Tribune.

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Connecticut elections watchdog warns about budget cuts

Corruption news for Connecticut, from the Connecticut Mirror:

The state's election cops intensified their warning to legislators Friday that their ability to oversee public campaign financing this fall is in jeopardy from deep budget cuts. The State Elections Enforcement Commission needs nearly double its existing contingent of account examiners if it hopes to monitor a projected caseload that includes nearly 340 campaign grants and more than 135,500 contributors, Executive Director Michael Brandi told an Appropriations Committee working group.

But even if the commission receives the extra resources, it still would tackle the 2012 state elections with less staffing that it had to monitor public financing in 2010 and 2008.

Read the rest of the story at the Connecticut Mirror.

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Kentucky judge forces release of records after state agency's "utter failure"

Corruption news for Kentucky, from the Courier-Journal:

Citing the “utter failure” of state officials to comply with fundamental requirements of the state open records law, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd has ordered the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services to release two years worth of child abuse records within 90 days.The order, issued Thursday, involves thousands of pages of documents from about 180 cases of children who died or were seriously injured from abuse or neglect.

It is the latest development in the ongoing legal battle over access to the records between the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services and two state newspapers, The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald Leader.

Read the rest of the story at the Courier-Journal.

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Arizona bill would increase lobbying disclosure of cities, public bodies

Corruption news for Arizona, from the East Valley Tribune:

The state House voted Thursday to require more reporting by local governments of what they spend lobbying lawmakers. But they refused to require themselves to disclose who pays for trips they get from special interest groups.

Under current law, public bodies are supposed to file annual reports about what they spend on lobbyists. That covers not only cities and counties, but also state agencies, boards, and commissions as well as the universities. As crafted, HB 2462 would expand the reporting to cover other "lobbying related activities.'' Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that would inform the public of what is being spent on unseen items like the time and expense to prepare legislation and testimony.

Read the rest of the story at the East Valley Tribune.

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