New York ranks among more corrupt states

State governments are susceptible to corruption, New York’s moreso than most, according to a new data-driven study done by the State Integrity Investigation.

The study gave New York a “D” based on score of 65 out of 100. That ranked New York 36 out of 50 states.

New York received a grade of “F” in four categories – state budgeting process, redistricting, ethics enforcement and pension fund management.  The Empire State received its best grades for internal auditing (B+) and lobbying disclosure (B-).

Corruptions problems are across the nation, according to the report:

The stories go on and on. Open records laws with hundreds of exemptions. Crucial budgeting decisions made behind closed doors by a handful of power brokers. “Citizen” lawmakers voting on bills that would benefit them directly. Scores of legislators turning into lobbyists seemingly overnight. Disclosure laws without much disclosure. Ethics panels that haven’t met in years.

State officials make lofty promises when it comes to ethics in government. They tout the transparency of legislative processes, accessibility of records, and the openness of public meetings. But these efforts often fall short of providing any real transparency or legitimate hope of rooting out corruption. 

That’s the depressing bottom line that emerges from the State Integrity Investigation, a first-of-its-kind, data-driven assessment of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms in all 50 states. Not a single state — not one — earned an A grade from the months-long probe.

Only five states earned a B grade: New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California and Nebraska. Nineteen states got C’s and 18 received D’s. Eight states earned failing grades of 59 or below from the project, which is a collaboration of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International.

What’s behind the dismal grades? Across the board, state ethics, open records and disclosure laws lack one key feature: teeth.

This was a comprehensive undertaking, as detailed here.

The first thing you need to know about this project is that it was enormous.

It begins with a list of 330 questions for each state.  The questions pertain to areas of government that are historically susceptible to corruption. Areas like campaign finance. Disclosure requirements for lobbyists. State budget processes. Even the management of the state retirement fund.

They examine the laws on the books for those areas and then reveal how those laws are actually enforced.

Read the report on New York State here. Detailed grades are here.

The reported cited weak campaign finance laws as a major problem.

New York’s contribution limits are considered relatively high; an individual can give $60,800 in a state-wide race (the BOE updates its limits each year). As well, there is a loophole that allows unlimited donations to the “housekeeping accounts” of political parties.

Corporations are limited to donating $5,000 to a state campaign but routinely get around that by donating to these murky conduits. While funds donated to housekeeping accounts are not supposed to be used in campaigns, parties can bolster office seekers with the cash in a variety of ways, including laundering it through other organizations or opening district offices that can boost a candidate’s presence.

Finally, The New York Times on Tuesday editorialized on the report and concluded:

The report shows that most statehouses can barely be trusted to maintain the rudiments of good government. Without deep reforms, they certainly should not be asked to handle more federal programs on which millions rely.

All this isn’t anything New Yorkers don’t already know, as Investigative Post noted last week. But seeing it detailed, documented and put in a national perspective is sobering.