Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Dismal State of State Level Corruption: Why You Should be Furious

by Nomad

If you thought your government was corrupt, you are absolutely correct, according to a new study. However, that corruption is very likely to be closer to you than Washington D.C.

One look at the recently released report by the Center for Public Integrity reveals in painful detail that when it comes to corrupt practices in legislatures, the situation is a big fat mess.

The goal of the research was to study and rank the levels of corruption in all 50 states "based on systems in place to prevent and expose governmental inpropriety. The results were much more disappointed than even the most cynical citizen would have thought.
The comprehensive probe found that in state after state, open records laws are laced with exemptions and part-time legislators and agency officials engage in glaring conflicts of interests and cozy relationships with lobbyists. Meanwhile, feckless, understaffed watchdogs struggle to enforce laws as porous as honeycombs.
In state after state, the type of corruption commonly found included undue influence from lobbyists, or conflicts of interest, a purposeful lack of transparency and canyon-wide loopholes that make all independent oversight little more than a a sad joke.
These are among the practices illuminated by the State Integrity Investigation, which measured hundreds of variables to compile transparency and accountability grades for all 50 states. The results are nothing short of stunning.
Except for Alaska, not one state in the union graded higher than a C. Shamefully only two others earned a higher grade than a D+ and 11 states received failing grades. Out of all states, Michigan is scored the lowest.
The bottom includes many western states that champion limited government, like Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming, but also others, such as Maine, Delaware and dead-last Michigan, that have not adopted the types of ethics and open records laws common in many other states.
The study also noted that at the top (of the bottom) are those states considered   "bastions of progressive government," For instance,  
California (ranked 2nd with a C-), and states notorious for corrupt pasts (Connecticut, 3rd with a C-, and Rhode Island, 5th with a D+).
The reasons for that aren't because there is more personal intergrity in new England but, the researchers pointed out, past scandal have led to "significant reforms and relatively robust ethics laws, even if dubious dealings linger in the halls of government." 
So the problem is merely about electing better quality politicians (no doubt that would help) but by giving much more power to agencies charged with oversight. That has to be the greatest dread of all lobbyists and politicians on the take.

While the Red States by and large did worse, the levels of corruption from both parties were universally high.
The findings may be deflating to the two-thirds of Americans who, according to a recent poll, now look to the states for policy solutions as gridlock and partisanship have overtaken Washington D.C.
These results strongly suggest that the federal government is only part of the problem. Perhaps blaming one party or the other is simply a highly effective deflection. 
In any case, things will not improve until state governments end "business as usual" politics. 

Useless Anger and the Failure of Partisanship
There's more than a touch of irony that last year a poll found that 65% of Americans were dissatisfied with the nation's system of government and how well it works, the highest percentage in Gallup's trend since 2001. The poll noted too that Republicans and independents are largely responsible for the overall decrease in satisfaction with government effectiveness in recent years.  

If Americans, especially Republicans and independents, are so angry at the way their government operates, then perhaps they should look harder at how they voted in state elections. Voting by party alone is a recipe for further shady dealing.
Whether Democrat or Republican, voters must hold their state representatives and governors more accountable. Zero tolerance. Moreover, instead of party politics, fed-up citizens must begin demanding stronger ethics reform legislation to close loopholes along with greater authority and funding given to regulatory bodies. 

The path to better government is clear enough. Where there has been improvement, it has come from states that have taken accountability seriously. 

However,the real question is whether Americans simply want to complain even as they continue to elect the same corrupt politicians.  
In theory, that's something voters from both parties should be able to agree on.