The State Integrity Investigation has sparked or accelerated reform efforts from elected officials in several states. They're taking steps toward lowering their state's corruption risk through increased transparency and accountability.
Campaigns for reform
In August, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed a bill to increase lobbyist disclosure. In support of the bill, lawmakers had cited the state's 42 percent 'F' grade in the Lobbying Disclosure category, while Gov. Markell said he hoped this and other measures would give Delaware a better grade than the C- it received on its Corruption Risk Report Card.
After the Senate started the 2013 legislative session with a new rule implementing a $100 lobbyist gift cap, Gov. Nathan Deal signed a law implementing a lower, $75 cap on gifts from lobbyists to public officials. The move enacted the state's first limits on such gifts, putting Georgia in line with nearly every other state in the nation. While advocates for tighter ethics laws welcomed the move, they raised concerns about several exceptions to the cap.
The law was the culmination of a multi-year effort by a coalition of groups, including Common Cause Georgia, which used its state's failing grade and 50th place ranking as evidence to push for a lobbyist gift cap. The state League of Women Voters chapter also cited the State Integrity Investigation in a legislative questionnaire, asking a prospective candidate what she would do to earn the state a better grade.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad mentioned the state's C+ grade in the State Integrity Investigation during the signing ceremony of a bill to improve open records access. Branstad's signature was the final step in creating the new Iowa Public Information Board, an independent body made up of journalists, local government officials and citizens, which will oversee appeals, disputes and violations of open records and open meetings law. The public access to information category was Iowa's only 'F' grade on its Corruption Risk Report Card.
Gov. Rick Scott signed sweeping ethics and campaign finance reform bills on May 1, 2013, addressing at least some of the weaknesses that led to the state's grade of C-. The ethics bill gives additional powers to the ethics commission, extends a ban on lawmakers lobbying after they leave office, and writes into law a ban on voting on bills that affect members' financial interests. The campaign finance bill increases the frequency of reporting and eliminates a type of committee that lawmakers used as slush-funds, but it also loosened restrictions on other committees and increased limits on campaign contributions to candidates.
Integrity Florida has used the State Integrity Investigation results to write two follow-up reports for Florida, which include recommendations for new laws and practice that would insure greater accountability in state government. Executive Director Dan Krassner has met and discussed the State Integrity Investigation results with the state ethics commission, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and senior staffers for Gov. Rick Scott, and has used the report to push for ethics reform legislation.
A bill to increase conflicts of interest disclosure for Maine's state constitutional officers, members of the executive branch, and legislators passed through the legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage, who described the law as "good for the health of our democracy and the people of Maine." In support of the bill, LePage had pointed to the state's poor showing in the State Integrity Investigation, which included an 'F' grade in the Legislative Accountability category.
House Minority Leader Emily Cain also proposed a bipartisan task force to review Maine's 'F' grade on the Corruption Risk Report Card, which would review the findings and make recommendations for the upcoming legislative session.
However, in January 2013, Cain scaled back her ambitions, saying it makes more sense to focus on specific problems, such as more comprehensive financial disclosure for the legislative and executive branches, conflicts of interest and “transparency.” The beginning of the 2013 legislative session saw the introduction of several bills, including one that would create a "cooling off period" for outgoing officials before accepting jobs in industries that they regulated while in office. Rep. Adam Goode, the bill's sponsor, said the legislation was inspired by the state's poor grade in the State Integrity Investigation.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced a transparency initiative in January, 2013 that will publish state documents on a new online portal. The site will display audits, contracts and other financial documents in searchable format. Chafee's office has been working with Global Integrity, a partner in the State Integrity Investigation, to bolster open government practices.
California legislators are linking the state's poor performance in several categories to a series of bills that would shed light on the state's legislative process. In support of proposals meant to increase transparency, the Assembly Republican Caucus cited California's grades of 'C-' for the Budget Process category, its 'C' grade for Legislative Accountability, and 'D-' grade for Public Access to Information. Among the reforms proposed in the transparency package is a bill that would make the legislative documents more accessible to open records requests.
Michigan legislators cited the state's 'F' grade on the Corruption Risk Report Card in pushing a broad package of ethics and transparency reforms, which includes 16 proposed bills and one constitutional amendment. House members successfully pushed the "Reform Government Now" package to the floor with bipartisan support.
While the legislature did not pass the measures in 2012, House Democrats introduced the slate of transparency and ethics bills again in 2013 as part of the national Sunshine Week.
Ohio legislators recommended a bipartisan task force to review ethics laws and proposals to increase state government transparency, as a response to the 'D' grade on Ohio's Corruption Risk Report Card. The lawmakers used the occasion to call on the House leadership to allow votes on a series of bills the group had introduced earlier in the session. Among the reform proposals were increased regulation of independent expenditures by corporations and unions, and a plan to increase transparency of public-private partnerships.
Voters First used a PDF print-out of Ohio's Corruption Risk Report Card as part of its ballot initiative to change the redistricting sytem in Ohio. The initiative, which would have taken the process out of the legislature's control and create a 12-person citzens commission, failed to garner enough votes in the November elections, but Voters First says it will continue to push for redistricting reform.
South Carolina legislators announced a proposal to overhaul ethics laws after the state received an 'F' grade on its Corruption Risk Report Card. Among the proposals was a plan to upgrade the State Ethics Commission, and a two-year prohibition on lobbying activities for outgoing legislators. While the proposal did not become law, it was just the beginning of a concerted reform effort from the Gov. Nikki Haley and the legislature.
In October 2012, Gov. Haley announced the creation of a commission on ethics reform that will present recommendations to the legislature for consideration after the 2013 legislative session begins in January. Republicans and Democrats in the state House and Senate also appointed three separate panels to hold hearings and generate ideas to be part of broad ethics reform.
In her 2013 State of the State address, Gov. Haley cited the State Integrity Investigation findings in a call for meaningful ethics reform, noting that South Carolina received failing grades in nine of 14 categories. Weeks later, a high-ranking Republican Senator filed bills that would require full financial disclosure for legislators, would require shadowy campaign committees to disclosure their donors, and would give the independent Ethics Commission the power to enforce ethics rules in the legislature.
In January 2013, a group of North Dakota legislators introduced a set of eight bills, which they dubbed the Sunshine Act, aimed at addressing some of the failings that earned the state an 'F' grade and the 43rd ranking in the State Integrity Investigation. The proposed changes include the creation of a state ethics commission and the tightening of campaign finance disclosure laws.
In February, the House voted down each of the bills except for one, which would require candidates to file campaign finance disclosures electronically and make them available for public review within 24 hours of being submitted. The Senate has not yet acted on the bill.
Advocacy group Regnat Populus 2012 used a PDF print-out of their state's Corruption Risk Report Card in their effort to gather signatures and put an ethics reform package on the ballot in November. Regnat Populus' drive for signatures fell short, but along the way their effort picked up endorsements from leaders in both political parties and Gov. Mike Beebe, who said he would support similar legislation if it was entered next session.
Honolulu Civil Beat, in partnership with Common Cause Hawaii, Kanu Hawaii and the League of Women Voters, held a public event on May 15 to talk about the state's results in the State Integrity Investigation. The event, part of Civil Beat's "Democracy Under the Influence" series, included a review of Civil Beat's findings on corruption risk in Hawaii, and also a discussion of what comes next for the state.
In November, a group of academics, journalists and state Sen. Les Ihara, Jr. announced a project aimed at improving lobbying oversight and transparency in the state. The project will examine the results of the State Integrity Investigation, which gave the state a D- for lobbying disclosure, to determine what measures would help improve the grade. The group aims to release a set of recommendations in May, 2013.
New York Citizen Action used a PDF print-out of New York's Corruption Risk Report Card in their lobbying efforts. Citizen Action was part of the Fair Elections for New York Campaign, which tried to convince state legislators to remove big money from campaign finance and support a public financing system for election campaigns. The effort failed this session, but has the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Citizen Action is confident the issue will resurface during the next session
One year after the State Integrity Investigation gave the state an F grade for public access to information, Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger said his agency had improved online access and added thousands of records to public websites over the previous 12 months. Doerflinger also cited another report, from U.S. PIRG, that ranked states based on access to government spending data. Doerflinger said he plans to consolidate the state's various open records websites into a central transparency portal in an effort to improve access to government data.
Good government advocates, including representatives of Texas Public Citzens and Texans for Public Justice, wore 'D+' buttons to a Texas Sunset Advisory Commission hearing. The buttons were a reference to Texas' overall grade on the State Integrity Investigation. The advocates wanted to encourage recommendations for ethics reform heading into the next Texas legislative session, but were ultimately disappointed by the commission's recommendations.