A new tool from the State Integrity Investigation ranks the corruption risk in each of the fifty states. Looks like we have some serious work to do.
In my home state of Massachusetts our last three House speakers have all been convicted on federal corruption charges. The so-called leaders of the people's house, felons. For this we earned a solid C, but oddly enough, almost cracked the top ten nationwide (11th overall). We tied with Illinois, where four of the last nine Governors have gone to prison.
Apparently this type of behavior is average. So much for the bell curve here.
Each state page features the report card you see below, where states are graded on fourteen factors, including: accountability, political financing, lobbying disclosure, and redistricting. The report cards are accompanied by a narrative giving "the story behind the score."
"Two of the three branches of government — the legislature and judiciary — are exempt from the state’s public records law by statute and the governor is exempted as the result of a ruling by the state’s highest court."
How is democracy supposed to flourish when nothing about government is transparent? Outrageous bills to retrieve documents — in paper form of course — a convoluted and lengthy appeals process, and a State Attorney General's office disinterested in enforcing compliance further deter public records requests, effectively sealing the actions of our entire State government behind closed doors. It's no wonder why so many of us distrust government these days.
In Massachusetts it's clear that the Democrats, who've long held an iron grip on State politics, are the ones fighting to maintain the shroud of secrecy over their work. I suspect in other States that it's the Republicans. We can continue to get bogged down with the blame game or we can work together to make the system work more fairly and effectively no matter who's in power.
When corruption is not only tolerated but applauded it's long past time for change.
"Corrupt leaders are still considered lovable rogues in Massachusetts. In 2011, when three disgraced former House Speakers made a visit to the State House, they were greeted with a standing ovation from legislators whose office they dishonored."
In the inner chambers of our government convicted felons are cheered as heroes, not because they were honorable leaders but because they successfully worked the system to the highest heights and the furthest limits. And even though they took it too far and got caught, they're a free man if they're walking back into the Capitol, diminished, but still revered.
It's time to change this culture of corruption. It's time we honored leaders who faithfully serve the people of this nation and aren't in government for the personal payday.
Based on the how the Disclose Act went down, it appears our national leaders aren't going to be the ones pushing for a more honest system. We're going to have to start building power and making change in the states.
Find out where your state stands and let your representatives in government know your working toward ending this culture of corruption.
Then take the Anti-corruption Pledge, and encourage your state legislators to do the same.