State Integrity Investigation

Keeping Government Honest

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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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Policing Pennsylvania: State needs to spend more on ethics enforcement

By Tim Potts

Pennsylvania’s political leaders are hostile to enforcement.

If the governor’s proposed budget is adopted, Pennsylvania’s commitment to enforcement over the past four years (under both Democratic and Republican governors) will be:

  • Department of State (elections, campaign finance, and lobbying) – cut by 28.9%.
  • State Ethics Commission (other forms of public corruption) – cut by 23.5%.
  • Office of Open Records – cut by 6.1%.

By way of comparison, our House and Senate will spend 62% more on printing next year ($18,975,000) than the budgets of the three agencies combined ($11,713,000). The budget for restoration for the capitol ($1,720,000) will be greater than the budget for the State Ethics Commission ($1,680,000).

I hope you will follow the State Integrity Investigation with a project to create a template for a Public Integrity Budget.

This budget would include the cost of enforcement agencies, communication campaigns to raise public awareness about deficiencies in state laws and enforcement practices, and mandatory training for public officials in how to avoid criminal conduct.

The integrity budget for Pennsylvania is pathetically small, representing just 4/10,000th of one percent of the proposed state budget. But no one knows how large it should be to make the kind of difference in enforcement that is needed. With a template that calls for a certain amount per capita as a baseline budget, integrity advocates could have a real tool to pressure governors and legislators.

Also, it would be good to have some creative ideas for funding the Public Integrity Budget with something other than appropriations by the legislature. For example, fines imposed and pension funds surrendered as the result of criminal convictions of public officials are one potential source. Another is court fees, and a third is a Public Integrity Endowment, i.e. a lump sum set aside whose interest earnings (like a pension fund) would pay for the operations of enforcement agencies. Or all of the above.

Tim Potts is president of Democracy Rising Pennsylvania, and he served as the peer reviewer forPennsylvani’s data in the State Integrity Investigation.

Filed under pennsylvania corruptionrisk democracy rising budget transparency accountability responsibility politics 2012 election 2012