A new report has bad news about the accountability and transparency of state legislatures.
The Center for Public Integrity – a nonprofit news organization – released its 2015 grades for state integrity on Monday, and the results were not pretty. Alaska received the highest grade – a C. Connecticut and California each received a C-, and the rest received a D+ or lower. Eleven states received Fs.
The grades were based on nearly 250 questions about transparency and accountability. The questions fell into 13 categories, including public access to information, political financing, state budget processes, internal auditing, state civil service management and ethics enforcement agencies.
The report found that there are major exemptions for open records laws, many part-time state legislators have conflicts of interests and strong relationships with lobbyists, and ethics watchdog agencies are underfunded and inefficient.
The three categories that states scored worst in overall – public access to information, state civil service management and ethics enforcement – reflect those findings.
This is the second time the center has conducted the report – the first was released in 2012. Overall, states did worse this year than in the first report.
New Jersey had the most significant drop. After receiving the highest grade of a B+ in 2012, the state received a D this time around. The center says the drop was likely a result of recent scandals, including Bridgegate, in which aides of Gov. Chris Christie allegedly blocked lanes on the George Washington Bridge to deliberately cause traffic delays in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Georgia, scoring a D- overall, and Virginia, scoring a D overall, showed some improvements in capping the value of gifts lobbyists can give to public officials. There is a $75 cap in Georgia, which had the worst grade overall in 2012.