State Integrity Investigation

Keeping Government Honest

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Georgia Gov. Deal signs new records law

State integrity news for Georgia, from the Athens Banner-Herald:

Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday signed into law a sweeping overhaul of the state’s open-records rules, touting the measure as among several legislative successes from this year’s General Assembly session.

The measure, which takes effect July 1, reduces the cost of obtaining public documents and stiffens penalties for illegally withholding public information. But it narrows the period of time when the public can scrutinize university president candidates.

Read the rest of the story at the Athens-Banner Herald.

Filed under georgia governor deal nathan deal athens change progress reform corruptionrisk public radio international center for public integrity finally open records rules reduce cost transparency state government

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Citizen-led group pushes for ethics reform in Arkansas

Every year Paul Spencer teaches the U.S. Constitution to the students in his government and politics class at Catholic High School For Boys in Little Rock, Arkansas. Over the last few years, Spencer found himself increasingly upset as he recited the words and recounted the intent of America’s founders.

“I noticed myself getting a little more angry every consecutive year about how things are in government, as opposed to how they are in the textbook,” Spencer said.

Now, Spencer and a group of motivated Arkansas citizens are doing what they can to change the way government operates in their state. Spencer is the leader of Regnat Populus 2012, the organization behind a grassroots movement to pass new ethics laws in Arkansas through a citizen-led ballot initiative. If Spencer’s group obtains the required number of signatures, the people of Arkansas will have the chance to push back against big money in government, double the time a lawmaker has to wait before becoming a lobbyist, and prohibit gift-giving from lobbyists to lawmakers.

Regnat Populus 2012 takes its name from the Latin for phrase “The people rule,” an expression that serves as Arkansas’ state motto, and which Paul Spencer and his partners hope to prove is still true.

Spencer’s leadership in the movement grew out of his brief involvement with Occupy Little Rock, where he Spencer and his wife encountered like-minded academics, organizers, and activists, including Marie Mainard O’Connell, a stay-at-home mom and Presbyterian youth minister.

“I’m very excited about [the ballot initiative],” O’Connell said. “I don’t know of any other occupy groups that have led to something quite like this.”

The group’s volunteer legal team has revived and updated a past version of an ethics reform initiative. The new proposal has three objectives:

  • Prohibit direct corporate and union contributions to state political campaigns.
  • Increase the ‘cooling-off’ period for former legislators to become lobbyists from 1 year to 2 years.
  • Ban all gifts from lobbyists to legislators.
Arkansas Senate chamber

O’Connell has already heard some complaining about the proposal from her acquaintances in state government.

“Unfortunately,” she said, “most of their arguments are along the lines of, ‘We’ve gotten used to a broken system.’”

Spencer said the ethics reform effort has picked up attention and support thanks to the release of the State Integrity Investigation, whichgave Arkansas an overall grade of D+ on its Corruption Risk Report Card.

“[The Arkansas grade] motivated a lot of the local media to kind of, throw their hands up and say, ‘This is what we’ve been saying all along, and there has to be something we can do with it’” Spencer said.

On April 4 Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel approved the “The Campaign Finance and Lobbying Act of 2012” initiative, opening the door for the group to begin collecting signatures. Arkansas law requires the support of 8 percent of the total vote in the most recent gubernatorial election before an initiative appears on the ballot, which means Regnat Populus 2012 has to collect 62,507 signatures before the July 1 deadline.

Spencer and O’Connell are confident that the people of Arkansas are on their side, particularly after a recent statewide poll found 69 percent of respondents supported the initiative; only 18 percent were opposed, and 13 percent were undecided. Most encouraging were high polling numbers in the ideologically conservative northwest corner of the state, which Spencer takes as evidence that ethics reform has bipartisan support.

Spencer was thrilled with those results, but says there’s a lot to be done: The group still needs volunteer canvassers across the state, and needs to raise money to fund travel and organization expenses.

The hard work of door-to-door, person-to-person signature gathering will soon be underway, pitting the group in a race against the calendar. At the moment, Regnat Populus 2012 is trying to reach out to any and all supporters of better, more accountable government for the state of Arkansas.

“We’re looking for people of goodwill,” Spencer said. “And that’s the only criteria that you actually have to have. We believe strongly that the people, if given the option to act in a nonpartisan, non-divisive way, can really make some changes.”

Filed under ethics reform corruptionrisk corruption politics election year paul spencer regnat populus grassroots movement liberty public integrity

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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."

Filed under State Government Integrity Corruption C-Span center for public integrity reform corruptionrisk local government discussion video politics

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Maine Governor, House Minority Leader push for reform after ‘F’ grade

Conservative Gov. Paul LePage and his liberal counterparts in the Maine state legislature disagree on many issues, but the two sides have found common ground: An ‘F’ on Maine’s report card is unacceptable. 

LePage, an outspoken Republican in his first term, is encouraging a piece of legislation that would expose state officials’ conflicts of interest and decrease the chances for legislators to line their own pockets with taxpayer money. Gov. LePage said this is the kind of reform that Maine needs to enact to improve the failing grade Maine received on its Corruption Risk Report Card.

On the legislative side, House Minority Leader Emily Cain, (D-Orono), said the report card raises substantive issues, and might inspire a bipartisan task force to review the findings and suggest changes going into the next legislative session.

The reform-minded responses are an encouraging sign for a state with nine ‘F’s and two ‘D’s out of the 14 categories under review in the State Integrity Investigation.

In the current session, LePage has already introduced LD 1806, a bill that would require public disclosure from state legislators, constitutional officers and executive branch members if the official or the official’s family member has an ownership or management-level position in a company that receives more than $10,000 from the state.

The proposed increase in transparency would set Maine on a path to an improved grade on its Corruption Risk Report Card, LePage told the Bangor Daily News:

"This is the direction we need to move in to improve Maine’s grade. It’s clear that many states struggle with this issue. However, it is an issue that I will continue to work on improving on behalf of the Maine taxpayer."

Cain floated the idea of a task force to review the problems highlighted in Maine’s failing grade, saying the group would “focus on feedback from the public and experts.”

A spokeswoman for Cain said the House Minority Leader was taking the idea to other leaders in the legislature to gain approval, in the hopes that the group could make suggestions before the legislature reconvenes in 2013. The spokeswoman said the task force would not look into “any one specific point from the report, but potentially use the report as a jumping-off point.”

With the statements from LePage and Cain, Maine becomes the fifth state to use State Integrity Investigation findings to support reform proposals, joining Delaware, Michigan, Ohio and South Carolina.

If you live in Maine and want to encourage your state legislators and Gov. LePage to enact reforms, click here to send the Maine Corruption Risk Report Card and a personalized message to your elected officials. Keep track of this and other movements toward more open, accountable state government on our Reform Efforts page.

Read more about reform in Maine from the Center for Public Integrity.

(Photo credit: Albany NY.)

Filed under Paul LePage government reform maine corruption scandal state politics Cain Bangor Daily News

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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 corruption scandal delaware politics reform policy voters rights Lobbyist lobby disclosure Campaign Finance campaign donations Jack Markell