State Integrity Investigation

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Next year marks the 200th birthday of the term “gerrymander.” The word, which refers to the redrawing of a congressional district to one party’s advantage, was named for Maryland Governor Eldbridge Gerry. Gerry (pictured, right) has since been forgotten, but gerrymandering is alive and well.

With the findings of the 2010 U.S. Census now in the hands of the states, the various legislatures, judicial boards and commissions tasked with redistricting are still in the process of redrawing the next American congressional map.  Despite some states’ attempts at fairness and transparency, the practice is not without controversy.

Last week, a U.S. District Court Judge rejected a redistricting map proposed by the Texas state legislature. The judge’s ruling leaves the Texas congressional elections of 2012 in a state of flux.

According to a report from Politico, Texas’ new map will either be drawn by a federal court in San Antonio, or by the Texas legislature, which can take another crack at redistricting when it reconvenes next year.

If you’re wondering how districts look when they’re designed through the gerrymandering process, here are 10 strangely-shaped districts throughout the country that are currently represented in the 112th Congress.

There is hardly a normal, natural shape in the bunch: Consider Florida’s Third District, snaking its way up to wrap around Jacksonville; or Illinois’ 17th District, which clings to the state’s west side like moss, and sneaks so far toward the center it encircles the city of Decatur.

When districts are gerrymandered without oversight and public input, it often leaves the map, and the resulting congress, in a strange shape that serves political parties at the expense of the voting public.

These images are courtesy of the National Atlas page, which has depictions of all 435 districts.

Filed under gerrymandering wtf redistricting california florida illinois maryland north carolina west virginia virginia texas pennsylvania integrity corruption transparency advantage politics why weird strange atlas map cartography

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Iowa Senate considers streaming debate online

State integrity news for Iowa, from the Sioux City Journal:

The Iowa House plans to again stream floor debate over the Internet next session, and the Senate is looking into providing similar coverage. Officials in the House said the effort to improve government transparency has been a success, with up to 100 people at a time logged on to monitor debate.

"I think that’s one reason you see fewer people in the gallery, because they can watch it live from their office," said Chief Clerk of the House Charlie Smithson. "It’s had a lot of positive effects in terms of openness and transparency."

Read the rest of the story at the Sioux City Journal.

Filed under debate showdown throwdown iowa sioux city corruptionrisk integrity public radio international pri streaming the future

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Washington Supreme Court ruling supports state’s ‘B-’ grade for open records

State integrity news for Washington, from SII partner KUOW:

A recent public radio investigation ranked Washington state second in the nation for government transparency. According to the State Integrity Investigation, only Connecticut did a better job of providing public access to public information.

As one quadriplegic man from Seattle learned, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to pry information out of Washington state agencies. But Thursday, it got a little easier. KUOW’s John Ryan reports.

Read and hear more at KUOW - Seattle.

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Maine lawmakers, Gov. LePage close ethics disclosure loopholes


By Naomi Schalit and John Christie, ©Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

The state has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to organizations run by legislative leaders or the spouses of high-level state officials since 2003. But because of a loophole in ethics law, the public didn’t know about it.

That won’t happen again.

A bill to require disclosure of state contracts with legislators and executive branch officials has sailed to approval through the House and the Senate. The bill, L.D. 1806, now awaits the signature of Gov. Paul LePage, who said Thursday he will sign it.

““It is reasonable to ask our elected leaders to disclose who is paying them. It is good for the health of our democracy and the people of Maine,” said LePage.

“This will increase trust in the system and ensure that people have the opportunity to take appropriate action and make decisions accordingly.”

LePage proposed the bill after a January investigation by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting revealed that organizations run by top legislators or the family members of executive branch officials had received $235 million in state contracts between 2003 and 2010.

In some cases, lawmakers served on the committees that controlled the spending that went to their organizations.

But the spending was never disclosed to the public in state ethics filings.

Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry, the senate president, was the lead sponsor of LePage’s bill. He said Thursday that the bill’s passage “means a greater degree of transparency” for citizens, who will be able to spot potential legislative conflicts of interests.

“They can be more confident that they’re aware of the circumstances surrounding individual legislators and their votes in the legislature,” said Raye.

Nathaniel Heller, head of Global Integrity, which co-sponsored a 50-state ethics-in-government study that recently gave Maine an “F,” said, the bill’s passage “is an important step in the right direction when it comes to advancing transparency and accountability in Maine’s government. It’s encouraging to see the governor and other political leaders respond to reporting about governance challenges in the state by adopting specific, evidence-based reforms.

“In an era of limited budgets, it’s especially crucial for Maine’s citizens to know that every dollar spent by their government is being spent wisely,” Heller said.

Current law requires that legislators or high-level state employees report state purchases of goods or services worth more than $1,000 only if they were purchased directly from the individual legislator or family member, not from a corporation or entity for which the legislator or family member works.

For example, $98 million in state contracts went to Portland’s Shalom House between 2003 and 2010. At that time, Sen. Joseph Brannigan, D-Portland, was executive director of Shalom House. He was also chair of the Appropriations and Health and Human Services committees. He was not required to disclose those payments from the state because they went to the organization he ran, not to him directly.

The new law will require legislators, executive branch officials and constitutional officers, such as the attorney general and secretary of state, to report if

Michael Carey

organizations they or family members were affiliated with — as owners or management-level employees — were paid more than $10,000 annually by the state. LePage’s original bill had proposed a $1,000 reporting trigger, but lawmakers amended that to the higher number.

Rep. Michael Carey, D-Lewiston proposed an additional amendment, which was adopted, requiring that lawmakers and executive branch officials report income above $2,000 to a corporation of which they are majority owner, even if the lawmaker or official isn’t paid by the corporation.

“If that entity is making money, just the fact that you’re choosing not to pay yourself doesn’t mean that you don’t have to report where that money comes from,” said Carey.

Carey said he proposed the amendment after state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin failed to report almost $10,000 in dues paid to the Popham Beach Club, which he owns. Poliquin later amended his disclosure form to reflect the payments.

The legislation closes another loophole that has allowed lawmakers and high-level executive branch officials to avoid disclosing their income during their last year working in state government. If the disclosure form filing deadline fell after they left office or state employment, they could simply ignore the requirement.

“The public will now have access to the officials’ financial information for their last year in office,” said Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.

Naomi Schalit and John Christie are senior reporters at the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service based in Hallowell. Email: mainecenter@gmail.com. Web:pinetreewatchdog.org

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Bill Buzenberg appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” Monday morning to talk about the inspiration for the State Integrity Investigation and the project’s findings. The Center for Public Integrity's Executive Director spoke at length with host John McArdle about the investigation, answering questions about why New Jersey ranked first, why Georgia ranked last, and why CPI, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International got involved with the investigation in the first place.

“The work is very serious,” Buzenberg said. “Those who have looked at it recognize how detailed it is, and how it will last a long time. This is going to have a very long shelf life.”

Buzenberg pointed out that the State Integrity Investigation had already been cited as evidence in reform efforts in five different states.

Buzenberg also took questions from callers, many of whom had the same question: “How did my state do?”

One caller from St. Louis, Missouri rang in to congratulate Buzenberg and decry the often unnoticed power lobbying groups wield in state government.

"I really don’t think that people truly understand the influence that — moreso, that their local governments and their state governments have on their lives, rather than the federal," she said. "So many reporters report on the federal government…there’s so much being slipped through with state governments, it’s amazing."

Buzenberg echoed the woman’s concerns, saying the leverage special interests have within state governments is a major concern, particularly with a weakened local press to keep tabs on the flow of power and influence.

"Lobbyists understand," Buzenberg said, "that they can move into 30-some states, help change the laws in those states, and they could effectively change the laws in the whole country. So, the state level is very important. We’re seeing less watchdog work at the state level — that was the real reason and impetus for this."

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Delaware Gov. Markell supports increased transparency requirements for lobbyists

Delaware is the latest state to take action on improving its Corruption Risk Report Card grade. With a C- overall grade, Delaware ranked 22nd out of 50 states in the State Integrity Investigation. The overall score was hurt badly by the lack of effective laws and practices governing lobbying activity: Delaware’s 43 percent ‘F’ grade on the lobbying disclosure category was fourth-worst in the nation.

On Wednesday, state legislators introduced a bill to strengthen state laws on lobbyist reporting, according to State Integrity Investigation partner station WHYY.

If enacted, Senate Bill 185 would require lobbyists to report exactly which pieces of legislation they are lobbying for or against. Under current law, lobbyists only need to list which clients they are representing.

WHYY interviewed Gov. Jack Markell, who said the state needed to upgrade its laws to shed more light on how lobbyists influence the legislative process:

"How can you tell who’s working to influence the bills that could become the laws that will affect your life? The problem is, in many cases right now, you can’t, because state disclosure laws simply haven’t kept up. This proposal helps solve that problem, bringing needed light to the process," Markell said.

Markell told WHYY that Delaware had already taken steps toward earning a better grade on a future version of the State Integrity Investigation.

Filed under delaware markell whyy integrity state integrity investigation corruption corruptionrisk center for public integrity disclosure transparency politics 2012