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).
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: