Some states are seeking to become more transparent, accountable and ethical after last year’s release of the Corruption Risk Report Card, which painted a bleak picture of our nation’s safeguards against unethical practices. 

Conducted by the State Integrity Investigation, the project involved an analysis of each state’s practices to deter corruption and promote accountability. The investigation, conducted by a team of journalists, graded each state government on its corruption risk using 330 different criteria. Each state then received letter grades in 14 categories, with an overall ranking being assigned from that average.

Among the 14 categories were a state’s openness in its budgeting processes; a state's executive, legislative and judicial accountability; its civil service and pension fund management; its lobbying disclosure; and ethics law enforcement.

The months-long probe found all 50 states to be lacking. The best five states earned B grades: New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California and Nebraska. 19 states received Cs and 18 got Ds. Eight states, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming and Georgia failed outright.

The overall problem, according to program materials, is that while many states have ethics, open records and disclosure laws in place, these laws lack teeth.

“It’s a terrible problem,” Tim Potts, executive director of Democracy Rising PA., a nonprofit advocacy group said in a statement, “A good law isn’t worth anything if it's not enforced.”

Some states, however, have not taken their lackluster grades lightly. Project materials indicate that since the report card’s release in March of 2012, Georgia, Delaware, Iowa, Florida, Maine and Rhode Island have all passed measures to bolster accountability and transparency. Measures have also been proposed in California, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina and North Dakota.

Maine is the most recent state to pass legislation to bolster its grade. In early July, Gov. Paul LePage singed a bill, which took a four-pronged approach to address issues of ethics and transparency. According to The Bangor Daily News, the law states that:

  • Ownership of business interests of 5 or more percent held by lawmakers or executive branch officials or their immediate family members, must be reported.
  • Officials must disclose if they, or immediate family members, are in a responsible position in a political party.
  • Maine’s Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices will require income of $2,000 or more be reported – including amount and range, rather than just its source.
  • Disclosure statements will be electronically filed and made immediately available to the public via the web. 

LePage issued a statement saying, “These new laws will play a role in ensuring public trust in government and addressing some inadequacies in the current ethics system. … These efforts are good for the health of our democracy and Maine people.”

For more information, or to see your state’s grade, click here.