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How Corrupt Is Your State? Chances Are: Very

A new investigation from the Center for Public Integrity found that most state governments are opaque cesspools of influence peddling, loopholes, and secrecy.
November 9, 2015, 11:15pm

The Texas State Capitol. Photo via Wikicommons

On Monday the Center for Public Integrity released an exhaustive and incredibly thorough "State Integrity Investigation" that ranks corruption among the 50 states based on the systems they have in place to prevent and expose governmental wrongdoing. And it ain't pretty. Almost every state government, apparently, is an opaque cesspool of influence peddling, loopholes, and secrecy. More depressingly, many states received worse grades than they did the first time the study was conducted, back in 2012. Only three states scored higher than a D+ in the study, and 11 flunked outright.

Glaring examples of exposed corruption include a Missouri lawmaker who was also director of the Missouri Grocer's Association and who was responsible for a bill that prohibited cities from banning plastic bags in supermarkets; government officials in Arkansas who saw fit to add a loophole that would allow food and drink to be purchased by lobbyists for lawmakers under certain circumstances; and legislators in New Mexico who passed a resolution to make their emails immune from public records laws.

But nearly all 50 states performed poorly in the investigation, which graded them based on 245 questions "that ask about key indicators of transparency and accountability, looking not only at what the laws say, but also how well they're enforced or implemented," according to the Center for Public Integrity. Those "indicators" were then divided into 13 categories: public access to information, political financing, electoral oversight, executive accountability, legislative accountability, judicial accountability, state budget processes, state civil service management, procurement, internal auditing, lobbying disclosure, state pension fund management and ethics enforcement agencies. The conclusion? That "corruption, influence peddling, and lack of government accountability are in fact very difficult to prevent across all 50 states."

Alaska was the least corrupt state in the union, but still only managed a C. Michigan performed the worst, receiving an F in ten of the 13 categories—that state lacks effective disclosure rules in "nearly all facets of government," according to the investigation, and therefore "big spenders representing special interests can dramatically influence an election without leaving a trace."

This rabbit hole is deep, and jumping down it will make you angry—you could spend a whole lot of time sifting through how deeply corrupt the people who govern the state you live in are. On top of the grades, full reports have been written for each state, examining how and why they scored the way they did.

Like … [spins the Wheel of 50 States] Texas, for instance. It ranked 38th, sliding from 27th in 2012's rankings. Texas received an F in Public Access to Information, Political Financing, Electoral Oversight, Lobbying Disclosure, Executive Accountability, Legislative Accountability, and Judicial Accountability. Its grade in Ethics Enforcement Agencies was a D-minus. These poor marks come in the face of Governor Greg Abbott's challenge to lawmakers in the Texas Legislature to dedicate itself to ethics reform. "The most important commodity that we have as elected officials is the bond that we share with our constituents," he said in his first State of the State address in February of this year, urging that "transparency will strengthen that bond." Despite this, the Lone Star state only passed a "handful of modest ethics bills" since.

A big part of the problem in Texas, Michigan, and across the country, really, is that many of the ethics committees tasked with overseeing their states are badly underfunded. In many states, the investigation found, inadequate funding caused shrinking staffs to be overloaded, and investigations to be delayed.

You can read the entire State Integrity Investigation here.

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