State Integrity Investigation

Keeping Government Honest

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Bill Gates Talks State Budgets & Corruption on TED

America’s school systems are funded by the 50 states. In this fiery talk, Bill Gates says that state budgets are riddled with accounting tricks that disguise the true cost of health care and pensions and weighted with worsening deficits — with the financing of education at the losing end.

Click the image to see Bill Gates deliver a fiery TED Talks presentation:
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We’ve published government corruption risk report cards for each state. The associated data reflects scoring for the questions we asked as we investigated corruption risk across 14 categories of government in all 50 US States.

The report cards for each State are complete with letter grades, State ranking among all 50 States, as well as detailed supporting comments and references. Sign up to receive updates on legislation reforms.

We can all take it upon ourselves to make change. Use the data and the corruption risk report cards to work with your State government officials to address the policy and practice issues that lead to power abuse, corruption and damaging societal issues that affect all of us. You can email your state’s report card to your legislators by clicking on link at the top of your state’s report card.

Filed under bill gates corruption scandal education Campaign Finance executive accountability Transparency open government open data

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Ohio Democrats demand transparency task force in response to D grade

By Caitlin Ginley

Citing the Buckeye State’s D grade from the State Integrity Investigation, Democratic legislators in Ohio have called for a bipartisan task force to review current ethics laws and consider new legislation to strengthen accountability and transparency.

“We have a responsibility to the people of Ohio and it is simply unacceptable for us to fail to ensure government is working for Ohioan’s best interest at all times, not for special interest or influences,” said Rep. Jay Goyal (D-Mansfield), in a press conference held Tuesday.

In a letter to legislative leaders, the House Democrats noted “great concern over the recent ethics report from the State Integrity Investigation.”

Among the 14 categories on the state scorecard, they pointed out, Ohio only received two grades higher than a C-. The state failed three categories: legislative accountability, lobbying disclosure and redistricting.

Ohio also received D - grades for executive accountability and judicial accountability, D+ grades for pension fund management and insurance commissions, and C- grades for public access to information, political financing, procurement, and ethics enforcement. Rep. Ted Celeste (D-Grandview Heights) said the grades are not something to be proud of, especially since the state received F’s in a few individual categories.

“We should do everything we can to improve our efforts here,” he said.

In addition to its call for new legislation, the letter also asked for reconsideration of some earlier proposals. Celeste said House Democrats have previously put forth legislation that would address some of the gaps in Ohio’s ethics laws, but those bills have not received serious consideration. Celeste and his colleagues are calling for hearings on those measures, which include proposed new regulations on independent expenditures by corporations and unions and creation of a public financing system for judicial elections.

Those hearings would be held when the legislature returns from spring recess. Another bill would require that records of public-private partnerships, a growing trend in Ohio, be made available to the public. Rep. Matt Lundy (D-Elyria), who sponsored the bill, said these entities – like JobsOhio, a semi-private agency focused on economic development – spend state dollars but are not currently subject to the state’s open record laws.

“It’s hard to keep track of where the money is going,” Lundy said. “If you can’t follow the dollars, you can’t keep track of accountability.”

The fate of the Democrats’ recommendations seems uncertain at best. A spokesman for the Republican House speaker, William Batchelder, told the Columbus Dispatch that the speaker takes transparency and accountability seriously, but questioned the “flawed methodology” of the State Integrity Investigation. The GOP controls both the state House and Senate, as well as the governor’s office. Bill Buzenberg, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, said he stands by the State Integrity Investigation’s methodology and reporting.

If you want your elected officials to take action, send them your state’s report card. Click on the “E-mail this score to your state official” button, and the report card will automatically fill in the e-mail address for your governor and state legislators. Connect with the leaders in your state, and get your report card to the people who represent you.

(Photo credit: Alexander Smith.)

Filed under corruption ohio politics open data open government republican house speaker columbus dispatch transparency accountability center for public integrity global integrity PRI

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Keeping New Jersey open: Update planned for open records, sunshine laws

Loretta Weinberg used to work in a hospital. At trying moments, when other employees complained about the workload and the more demanding patients, Weinberg had a response ready.

“I used to say, ‘You know, it would be a lot easier around here if we didn’t have these patients around here, needing food and medicine the way that they do,’” Weinberg said.

Weinberg’s tongue-in-cheek line was a gentle reminder of the people the hospital was actually meant to serve. Now, as the New Jersey Senate Majority Leader, Weinberg (D-Bergen) often finds herself making the same point to her fellow legislators and public servants. Only, instead of patients needing food and medicine, she’s reminding her colleagues about taxpaying citizens who need access to information and accountability.

That’s why Weinberg is pushing for a revised and improved version of the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and Open Public Meetings Act, or “sunshine” laws.

“Government officials, a lot of them, they consider it annoying,” Weinberg said, referring generally to citizen’s demands for access to information and meetings. “And you know what? From time to time it is annoying — but it’s the price we pay.”

Bill S-1452, Weinberg’s update of the OPRA law, would allow for state agencies or officials to e-mail requested records as opposed to the more tedious and expensive method of printing out and mailing hard copies. Another aspect of Weinberg’s open records bill would grant access to New Jersey’s public documents to non-New Jersey residents.

Despite the bill’s potential benefit to a national audience, Weinberg (pictured, right) said it’s inspired by things she hears locally, saying she fields complaints about public records access from her constituents “all the time.”

The bill would create penalties for “gross negligence” on behalf of public employees who have failed to honor a records request. But the measure is not meant to be punitive: After consulting with municipal-level clerks, who often handle requests, Weinberg loosened the timelines that would constitute a violation.

Having sought input from civil servants and open government advocates, Weinberg thinks her bill strikes a balance, upgrading the state’s openness while protecting the state from frivolous or excessive requests, like the recent inquiry for all e-mails that contained the word “the.”

For the meetings law, Weinberg’s proposed upgrade (S-1451) would require public bodies to post advance notice of meetings online, and, after the fact, publish meeting minute and any actions taken to the body’s website. Weinberg says the move would help bring New Jersey into the digital age, pointing out that when the laws were originally written, “the word Internet had not been coined yet.” Another example of Weinberg’s attempt to bring the law up to speed with technology would prohibit two members of a public body from communicating with each other privately by e-mail or text message during the course of a public meeting.

If the proposed improvements make it to an up-or-down vote on the floor, Weinberg is confident the bills will pass.

“Once you get it before the legislature,” she said, “very few people have the nerve to vote no on an open public records or an open public meetings act.”

(Source: stateintegrity.org)

Filed under open data Transparency FOIA corruption sunshine laws new jersey politics scandal

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Play without pay: Rhode Island’s plan to take politics out of state contracts

Rhode Island’s history of lawmakers and state contractors getting too cozy? Blame geography and population.

“Rhode Island is a very small state,” said Rep. Michael Marcello (D-Dist. 41). “There has always been a close relationship between contractors and the state government. Not because they are necessarily nefarious – just because there’s not a lot of people who are bidding on these things.”

Even if the two sides are on friendly terms, Marcello wants to make sure the relationship doesn’t come at a price. Marcello has sponsored a bill that prohibits state contractors from donating money to the campaigns of officials controlling the contract.  If approved, the legislation would mean any company that receives more than $5,000 in state contracts annually could not donate to a campaign for a candidate who leads a state entity responsible for that contract.

The bill mirrors regulations already in place in other states, and was introduced at the request of Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, who worked with Marcello to craft the language. Marcello said the bill will mostly affect the executive branch, which awards most of the state’s larger contracts.

Marcello (pictured, right) said he’s never personally witnessed what would qualify as a pay-for-play incident in state government, though he didn’t rule out the possibility. But, perhaps as troubling, he said companies looking to do business with the state might feel obligated to donate.

“I think there’s a perception that if you want to be taken seriously, or want to be considered as someone who is able to get these bids, you have to be someone who is connected politically,” Marcello said. “This bill is designed to make [bidding] more transparent, number one – and number two, just to kind of remove any doubt about it.”

One lobbyist has already voiced his opposition privately to Marcello, telling the representative that his bill was an infringement on free speech. So far, Marcello said courts have been lenient in allowing campaign finance restrictions as they relate to government contracts, though he said the free speech issue is a “legitimate constitutional question.”

“But I also think there’s an overriding concern here,” Marcello said. “I’m a lawyer, so I don’t ever like to say you’re sacrificing free speech rights. But I think there are times when there’s a necessary restriction that’s in the public interest.”

(Source: stateintegrity.org)

Filed under procurement corruption rhode island politics scandal Transparency open government open data