* States doing poor job fighting corruption
* Only five states receive "B" grade, none get "A"
* Ailing newspapers' watchdog role weakening
By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON, March 19 Despite a
well-deserved reputation for scandals, New Jersey is among the
state leaders in the fight against official corruption, with
most states doing a poor job, according to a wide-ranging study
released on Monday.
Five states received a "B" grade for accountability and
transparency and eight got an "F" in the investigation by the
nonprofit groups Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity
and Public Radio International. No state got an "A."
The 18-month project is the most comprehensive study of
state laws and practices that bolster openness and deter
corruption, the investigators said.
The five states receiving "B" grades were New Jersey,
Connecticut, Washington, California and Nebraska. The eight
failing states were North Dakota, Michigan, South Carolina,
Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia at the
Nineteen states got a "C" and 18 received a "D."
For New Jersey, whose popular image is fused with TV's mob
drama "The Sopranos," being among the leaders is
"counter-intuitive" but a tribute to its corruption-fighting
reforms, said Nathaniel Heller, managing director of Global
But, he added, "To be at the top of this list is sort of to
win a beauty contest where not anybody is particularly pretty to
The study comes as struggling newspapers have slashed
statehouse coverage or folded, weakening its traditional
watchdog role of government, said Caitlin Ginley of the Center
for Public Integrity, the project manager.
Almost every state had large gaps between laws on the books
and their enforcement, she said.
The index grade measured the risk of corruption based on 330
indicators across 14 categories of government.
States with well-known scandals paradoxically often have
tough laws and enforcement that then bring them to light, a
statement accompanying the study said.
"'Quiet' states may be at higher risk, with few means to
(bring to the) surface corrupt practices," it said.
NEW JERSEY TOPS LIST
As a prime example of how scandals can lead to reform, New
Jersey got a "B+" despite a reputation for corruption that saw
Governor Chris Christie bust more than 100 public officials
while a U.S. attorney, earning him a reputation as a
Reforms by lawmakers and good-government groups mean "New
Jersey now has some of the toughest ethics and anti-corruption
laws in the nation," investigators said.
New Jersey ranks first in the integrity investigation for
ethics enforcement, first for executive branch accountability
and fourth for procurement practices.
New York finished 36th with a "D" grade despite Governor
Andrew Cuomo's steering ethics reform through the legislature.
"When the capital (Albany) is mentioned anywhere in New York
state, there's usually a guffawing rejoinder followed by 'rats,'
'bums' or 'thieves,'" the report said.
Illinois, where former Governor Rod Blagojevich started a
14-year prison term for corruption on Thursday, got a "C" in a
four-way tie for 10th with Rhode Island, Massachusetts and
GEORGIA: SPORTS TICKETS, NO FINES
In Georgia, at the bottom of the list, there is a "gaping
divide" between legal standards for accountability and normal
practice, the report said.
Some 658 state workers accepted sports tickets, expensive
meals and other gifts over a two-year period. It has been 12
years since the state last fined a vendor for failing to
disclose such gifts, it said.
As a group, executives of Georgia insurance companies,
public utilities and other regulated sectors have become the
biggest single source of campaign money for regulators.
Methodology for the study was designed by Global Integrity,
a Washington group that examines corruption worldwide.
The Center for Public Integrity oversaw the reporting and
editing. Minneapolis-based Public Radio International, a
transparency campaigner, handled dissemination by social media.
The study was largely funded by the Omidyar Network, an
investment group founded by eBay Inc founder Pierre
Omidyar and his wife, and the Rita Allen Foundation of
Princeton, New Jersey.