Report Shows States Getting Slightly Better at Preventing Public Corruption
The Coalition for Integrity has released its report on how states are guarding against public corruption – its so-called “S.W.A.M.P. Index.” The major conclusions:
No state achieved a perfect score, and in fact, no state scored above 80. This is the same result as 2018.
35 states scored below 60; in 2018, the number was the same.
10 states scored below 40; in 2018, the number was 12 states.
Three states, Washington (80), Rhode Island (78) and the District of Columbia (76) land at the top of the score chart. While Washington (78 in 2018) and Rhode Island (75 in 2018) were in the top three in 2018, the District of Columbia replaced California as a result of the addition of the new questions.
Washington remains the top scorer. It has an Executive Ethics Board and a Legislative Ethics Board, both of which have authority to independently investigate, hold public hearings, issue reprimands and impose fines. The state also has strong gift rules which prohibit elected and appointed executive branch officials and legislators from accepting more than $50 worth of gifts, in aggregate, in a calendar year or in a single gift from multiple sources. State law also provides an avenue to protect the anonymity of an ethics complainant. Finally, disclosure of payors of political advertisements is required across all media.
We have seen improvement in the ethical framework in many states since 2018, as a result of our advocacy and that of other state-based organizations. The most significant change from 2018 is that two states (North Dakota and New Mexico) which did not have an independent ethics agency now have one. In spite of these improvements, there are still gaps in ethics laws that need to be addressed.
As the report’s authors note, it is impossible to legislate against all corruption, and no amount of disclosure or ethics training and enforcement can prevent public officials from abusing their offices for personal gain.
One suggestion the report’s authors fail to make that could curb corruption? Having a smaller government that offers far fewer opportunities (or temptations) for public plunder.
Image Credit: By Jericho [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons