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ETHICALLY CHALLENGED

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

A map of US states color-coded for ethics agencies' transparencies
Coalition for Integrity
US states ranked by ethics agencies’ transparency.
By Max de Haldevang
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

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).

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:

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
42
North Carolina
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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