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Which US state is least-equipped to fight corruption? Look away, Arizona and Wyoming

Max de Haldevang
A map of US states color-coded for ethics agencies' transparencies

There are “tremendous shortcomings” in the ethics enforcement regimes of US states, according to the author of a new report by the Coalition for Integrity, an anti-corruption nonprofit.

The report analyzed the departments charged with monitoring ethics violations by government representatives in all 50 states and Washington, DC. It ranks those agencies for transparency, and breaks down enforcement actions taken by them. It found that five states had no ethics agencies at all, three had agencies with limited or no power, and two states’ agencies didn’t publish anything about their activities or respond to the researchers’ requests for information.

“You’re making me laugh when asking what I think about the state of US ethics enforcement—I think it’s extremely poor,” said Shruti Shah, CEO of the Coalition for Integrity (formerly known as Transparency USA).

State Finding
Arizona No ethics agency
Idaho No ethics agency
North Dakota No ethics agency
New Mexico No ethics agency
Wyoming No ethics agency
Utah Agency has limited or no power
Vermont Agency has limited or no power
Virginia Agency has limited or no power
Mississippi Agency provided no information to researchers
North Carolina Agency provided no information to researchers

Even in states with top transparency levels, like Minnesota, the actual punishments can be meaningless. The North Star state’s agency can only issue fines of $5 per day, with a maximum of $100, for officials who fail to file financial disclosures. The report named the Washington State Executive Ethics Board and Massachusetts and West Virginia’s ethics commissions as examples of best practices in ethics enforcement. They boast good transparency scores and can mete out cease-and-desist orders and fines of up to $5,000 or $10,000.

Meaningful enforcement is “key to the deterrence of future unethical behavior,” said Shah, arguing that when companies are charged under laws like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, others begin to fall in line. Shah said that it’s not enough to rely on state or federal law enforcement to punish public corruption and ethics violations, since those authorities can have “different priorities and different resources so this wouldn’t be at the top of the agenda.”

Last year, the Coalition for Integrity ranked states’ anti-corruption laws and found that only 16 got a passing grade. North Dakota ranked last, with Wyoming not far behind; both are among the five states that don’t even have an ethics agency.

Read the full results below, with more details here:

Ranking State Final State Score
1 Colorado 100
1 Florida 100
1 Minnesota 100
1 Rhode Island 100
5 Massachusetts 94
5 West Virginia 94
7 California 93
8 Delaware 83
8 Kansas 83
8 Nevada 83
8 Texas 83
12 Kentucky 69
13 Alabama 67
13 Maryland 67
13 New York 67
13 Washington 67
17 Pennsylvania 65
18 Montana 61
19 South Dakota 56
20 Missouri 54
21 District of Columbia 50
21 Hawaii 50
21 Indiana 50
24 Oregon 48
25 Nebraska 46
26 Arkansas 44
26 Iowa 44
26 Louisiana 44
29 Connecticut 42
30 Georgia 39
30 Michigan 39
32 Alaska 32
33 Oklahoma 28
34 New Hampshire 27
35 Illinois 23
36 Maine 22
36 Ohio 22
36 Tennessee 22
39 New Jersey 19
40 Wisconsin 17
41 South Carolina 4
42 Mississippi 0
42 North Carolina 0
Unranked Utah Agency has limited or no power
Unranked Vermont Agency has limited or no power
Unranked Virginia Agency has limited or no power
Unranked Arizona No agency
Unranked Idaho No agency
Unranked North Dakota No agency
Unranked New Mexico No agency
Unranked Wyoming No agency

 

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