Corruption Risk Report Card
Rank among 50 states: 1st

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The story behind the score

In a state with a reputation for government corruption, reform-minded leaders have passed some of the nation’s toughest ethics laws. Read more from SII State Reporter Colleen O’Dea.

Latest state news for New Jersey
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Ever since Bugsy Siegel opened the Flamingo Hotel in 1946 and launched the Las Vegas Strip, gambling has held a tenuous position in American life, suggesting glamour, wealth, depravity and corruption all at once. Now that casinos have spread throughout the nation and allegedly shed their mafia ties, a new branch of the industry is fighting for legitimacy here.

Las Vegas-based casinos and overseas operators have begun an all-out battle over Internet gambling, which is mostly banned nationwide but carries with it the promise of billions of dollars in additional revenue for casinos and state governments. Three states began licensing online betting last year, and lawmakers are debating online gambling bills in seven others right now. In Washington, meanwhile, Congress is facing increasing pressure to either bar or regulate the fledgling industry federally.

With the start of the Republican National Convention this week, the presidential election makes the turn from the preliminaries to the main event. The conventions, debates and relentless campaign ads will dominate the political landscape until election day in November.

While the focus turns to electing a chief executive, the executive branch of government at the state level actually can have more direct impact on the lives of citizens. One of the 14 categories we examined in the State Integrity Investigation focused on executive accountability, in which reporters looked at the laws that keep watch on the actions of governors across all 50 states.

The State Integrity Investigation ranked New Jersey as the top state the executive accountability category, in part because of the laws there requiring disclosure of any conflicts of interest for the governor and the auditing procedures in place to review those disclosures. Governors are required to submit an asset disclosure statement, which is posted online for citizens to view within 24 hours. The statement is audited by the State Ethics Commission.

South Carolina brought up the rear in this category, with an 'F' grade. In South Carolina, the governor is required to file a "statement of economic interest'' before taking the oath of office; however, the governor isn't required by that statement to disclose any information about her assets or sources of income. South Carolina has poor financial disclosure laws for all state officials; proposals on the table now from both legislators and Gov. Nikki Haley take aim at that weakness and may be considered in the 2013 legislative session.

One area in which both New Jersey and South Carolina scored poorly -- along with most other states -- involves the ability of governors to set up non-profit organizations that can be used to reward political supporters or circumvent campaign finance laws. Neither state addresses that possibility through statute, and it is a gap in regulation among most other states as well. Tennessee, which scored third in this category, views this kind of organizations in the same category as political action committees and requires disclosure.

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.

State integrity news for New Jersey, from the Times of Trenton:

The township's two Democratic assemblymen say they will introduce a bill requiring politicians to follow state campaign finance and pay-to-play laws when holding legal defense fundraisers.

The announcement comes as critics have raised questions about a fundraiser Mayor John Bencivengo will hold June 5. Bencivengo is fighting federal corruption charges after he was accused of accepting $12,400 in bribes from the school district's insurance broker.

Read the rest of the story at the Times of Trenton.

State integrity news for New Jersey, from the Newark Star-Ledger:

A State Police trooper pulls over a South Jersey assemblyman one day in February. The lawmaker tries to get out of the ticket, and later complains the trooper targeted him as payback because the Legislature voted to make public employees pay more for health and pension benefits.

The trooper says that after he refused to throw out the lawmaker’s ticket, his own union leaders pressured him to make it disappear as a favor to a "personal friend."

Read the rest of the story at the Newark Star-Ledger.


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