A possible cure for corruption?

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By Jay Miller

Is New Mexico the most corrupt state in the nation? You’ve seen the news. It looks pretty bad. Many national organizations are interested about corruption in the states.
 On most of their rankings, New Mexico falls somewhere in the middle. The last one I saw ranked us 19th. Political corruption we hear about most often seems to occur in Illinois, New Jersey and Louisiana. But those states donít rank near the top of the corruption scale either.
 It is often little, out-of-the-way states like North Dakota or Vermont that head the corruption list. How can that be? We never hear about it.
 Numerous explanations are out there. Most studies involve only federal convictions. Thatís much easier than looking at state and local convictions or disciplinary actions by state legislatures. Most studies are done on a per capita basis but regardless of size, each state has only one set of state officers.
And some states may be better at prosecuting offenders. The strictness of state laws differ. And some states don’t even have laws to cover many types of transgressions.
Finally an organization has compiled a list of laws and regulations that states should have in place to prevent the risk of corruption. The study was conducted by the Center for Public Integrity. It looked at laws in each state that demonstrate transparency and accountability in government.
The study looked at over a dozen mechanisms in state government designed to produce openness and accountability. It then graded each state on how well it is set up to prevent corruption.
The good news is that this study is the first of its kind. Let’s hope it helps public agencies develop better safeguards for preventing corruption.  The bad news is that nearly state starts near the bottom.
New Mexico got a D-. North and South Dakota, Michigan, Maine, South Carolina, Virginia, Wyoming and Georgia received F. The best state is New Jersey with a B+. New Jersey? They must have rigged this study.
Evidently not. The answer may be that past corruption has caused the enactment of more measures to protect against future corruption. And this study looked only at states not at local government where so many of New Jersey’s problems have occurred.
Among the areas of government the study looks into were accountability in the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. New Mexico’s  legislative and executive branches both received a D. The judiciary got a C, probably because of the existence of a Judicial Standards Commission.
Efforts in the Legislature nearly every year to create an ethics commission for all of state government always has has failed. The prevailing attitude has been that we don’t need it.  
Our highest grades were B-minuses for internal auditing and redistricting. The state auditor’s office and the auditing function of the Legislative Finance Committee may be the reason.
The good showing in redistricting is a surprise. It may be due to the fact that judges always end up deciding on districts when the Legislature and governor can’t agree.
Other states must be worse, such as Texas and Colorado, which redistricted again in 2004 when Republicans gained total control of the legislature and governor’s office.
Our procurement and budget processes earned us a C-, as did our civil service management. Political financing and our pension fund management came in at D-. Lobbying disclosure, ethics enforcement and insurance regulation got us an F.
Maybe this rather thorough analysis and comparison of state governments will encourage our state government branches to strengthen their integrity. The problem is that they should already have known in order to insure transparency and accountability in government.
Governors and legislators both have organizations to help strengthen state governments. Taxpayers pay the bill for membership in these organizations. We also pay the expenses of many officials to attend conferences.
But so far, it isn’t sinking in very well.

Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist based in Santa Fe,