Native Village
Youth and Education news

April 1, 2012
America's least Corrupt States
Condensed by Native Village

1. New Jersey (87%)
Overall Grade:
Public access to information: B-
Legislative accountability:
Political  financing:
Ethics enforcement agencies:
New Jersey State Map

The presence of New Jersey anywhere in the top five least corrupt states in the country, let alone the number one spot, may be very surprising to anyone familiar with the state’s checkered past.

In the last decade alone, at least five state legislators were convicted on corruption charges. According to State Integrity Investigation reporter Colleen O’Day, “thanks largely to these moral missteps and hard work by good-government groups and legislators, New Jersey now  has some of the toughest ethics and anti-corruption laws in the nation.”

The state scored As in six categories on its corruption risk report card, including internal auditing, lobbying disclosure, and state pension fund management.

The state requires detailed financial disclosure from the governor. It also has one of the most comprehensive ethics enforcement policies in the country.

2. Connecticut (86%)
Overall Grade: B 
Public access to information: B+
Legislative accountability: C
Political financing: A
Ethics enforcement  agencies: A
Connecticut State Map

Few states have a longer history of severe corruption than Connecticut. In its recent history, the state has had supreme court justices, state treasurers, and Governors severely abuse their power.

According to the State Integrity Investigation, it was those scandals that forced the government to become a more honest, transparent organization with strict rules for political financing and a strong ethics enforcement agency.

Last year, the state launched, a database of state spending where citizens can monitor exactly how their tax dollars are being used.

3. Washington (83%)
Overall Grade:
Public access to information:
Legislative accountability:
Political financing:
Ethics enforcement  agencies:
Washington State Map

Washington stands out among states for its exemplary level of transparency. 

In 1972, the state was the first to pass a Public Records Act, which is a series of laws intended to guarantee public access to public records of government bodies at all levels.

The state has strict ethics laws and campaign disclosure laws, and an Open Public Meetings Act that requires transparency.

The state’s judiciary are elected directly by citizens at all levels.

State legislature committee meetings and floor action are open to the public and often featured on state television.

However, recent  budget cutbacks have had an impact on many types of disclosure or ethics  investigations, the State Integrity Investigation notes.

4. California (81%)
Overall Grade: B-
Public access to information: D-
Legislative accountability: C
Political  financing: B-
Ethics enforcement agencies:  B
California State Map

Although California performs well in a number of categories, one of its strongest areas is that of redistricting. This is largely the result of the state’s new Citizens Redistricting Commission, which randomly selected its first eight members, effectively taking the responsibility of drawing district boundaries away from state legislators.

The state has open meeting laws for local governments, as well as state boards and commissions. 

California earns high scores for citizen input at budget hearings thanks to public hearings and testimony that precede the passing of any budget.

The state also has exceptional public records access laws compared with many other states. 

The state governorship has changed parties frequently over the last 70 years.

5.  Nebraska  (80%)
Overall Grade:
Public access to information: C+

Legislative  accountability:
Political financing:
Ethics enforcement agencies:
Nebraska State Map

Nebraska is among the least corrupt states, receiving A grades in several categories, including internal auditing, state budget processes, procurement, and redistricting.

The state maintains a particularly high level of  transparency, with nearly every bill presented to the Nebraska Legislature getting a public hearing.

All proposed bills, amendments, and the state budget  are posted online.

The state benefits from what are considered to be highly-effective open-records and public-meetings laws.

The financial disclosure reports  of public officials and campaign finance reports are inspected closely by the  state’s Accountability and Disclosure Commission. The attentiveness of this department has had direct results, including Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mark Lakers’ withdrawal from his 2010 campaign race after inaccurate campaign  pledges in his campaign finance reports were revealed.

Also read: America's Most Corrupt States

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