Corruption Risk Report Card
Rank among 50 states: 37th

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The story behind the score

New York’s newly created ethics commission has its work cut out for it in a state government that’s often defined by dysfunction and corruption. Read more from SII State Reporter David King.

Latest state news for New York

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo thrust ethics and campaign finance reforms to the top of his legislative agenda yesterday by including the controversial subjects in his 2014 budget proposal. The Empire state had ranked poorly in a national review of ethics and transparency laws by the State Integrity Investigation.

In a speech to the Legislature, Cuomo said the state has become a model for progress in policy areas from education to health care, but that a wave of public corruption cases threatens to undermine those efforts.

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 New York state senator and five other political officials have been named in a sweeping federal corruption case — the latest in a series of scandals that helped earn the Empire State a D grade from the State Integrity Investigation.

At the heart of the complaint unsealed Tuesday: federal prosecutors say Sen. Malcolm Smith, a Democrat from Queens, used a series of contacts in an attempt to bribe New York City Republican Party officials to approve his bid for mayor on the GOP ticket.

Tomorrow will mark the end of yet another expensive campaign season across the country. But in New York spending will go on. In the Empire State, candidate campaign funds can continue to flow long after those candidates have exited the political stage.

As the New York Times wrote in an editorial last week, candidates for state office can maintain campaign accounts—and continue to dole out funds from them—long after they have left office, been convicted of a crime or even after they have died.

By Mike Mullen

Gov. Scott Walker survived his recall election. The same cannot be said for the integrity of campaign finance laws in Wisconsin.

Incumbents targeted for recall are freed from Wisconsin's normal fundraising limits, and can collect unlimited contributions from individual donors. With the election between Walker and his Democratic opponent, former Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, seen as a battleground for national partisan politics, money poured in on both sides. But Walker exploited the seemingly infinite loophole to tremendous advantage: By election day, Walker's campaign had received more than $30 million in donations, a total that approached the $37.5 million spent by both sides during the 2010 election, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Wisconsin received a grade of 'C-' from the State Integrity Investigation for its political financing laws and practices, with reporter Kate Golden finding proper measures on limits, enforcement, and transparency, while also documenting numerous exemptions and back-channels, including the recall election loophole. But in other states, the potentially polluting influence of unlimited, and sometimes unsupervised campaign financing is constant and permanent, borne out of state laws and practices -- or their absence.

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