America’s Most Corrupt States

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4. Virginia
> Overall grade: F (55%)
> Public access to information: F
> Legislative accountability: F
> Political financing: F
> Ethics enforcement agencies: F

Among Virginia’s ethical failings are poor government oversight, weak consumer protections and poor separation between politicians and big business. Overall, it receives nine Fs. One of the state’s greatest offenses is its exemption of its State Corporation Commission — a regulatory agency that is responsible for overseeing all businesses, utilities, financial institutions and railroads in the state — from its Freedom of Information Act. While Virginia has a General Assembly Conflict of Interests Act, the law has proven incredibly inefficient. Only one legislator has ever been prosecuted for violating it — 26 years ago. The state is also weak on enforcing disclosure laws. In 2004, it was discovered that former Democratic Governor L. Douglas Wilder failed to file disclosure reports for his gubernatorial election campaign. Worst still, approximately $169,000 from his campaign account was unaccounted for. Consequently, L. Douglas Wilder, Jr., the former governor’s son and one-time campaign treasurer, pleaded guilty to two election law misdemeanors in 2007, resulting in a $1,000 fine and a suspended one-year sentence.

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3. Wyoming
> Overall grade: F (52%)
> Public access to information: F
> Legislative accountability: D-
> Political financing: F
> Ethics enforcement agencies: F

The state of Wyoming received a grade of F in nine of the 14 categories measured by the State Integrity Investigation. The state’s mechanism for self-governance is extremely poor. According to the report, there is no hotline, website or other method for state employees to report corruption. The state also has had the same political machine in place for some time. Wyoming’s two U.S. senators both have been Republicans since 1977. In 2006, the state legislature, which is primarily Republican, overrode a veto from the governor and ruled themselves exempt from open records laws. This means bills in draft can be kept secret, as can all communications with staff, until a bill is proposed.

2. South Dakota
> Overall grade: (50%)
> Public access to information: D+
> Legislative accountability: F
> Political financing: F
> Ethics enforcement agencies: F

South Dakota, which has the second-highest corruption risk score, has nine failing grades out of 14 categories, and three Ds. The state, which has among the lowest population density in the country, does not have “comprehensive state ethics laws,” an ethics commission or satisfactory transparency laws, as Denise Ross writes for the State Integrity Investigation. The state does little to require public officials, other than judges, to disclose their income and assets. State law features a loophole that makes it possible for individuals to make unlimited political donations. The state has made major improvements in its integrity by making many state records available online in recent years.

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1. Georgia
> Overall grade: F (49%)
> Public access to information: F
> Legislative accountability: F
> Political financing: F
> Ethics enforcement agencies: F

Georgia has the worst levels of corruption risk and lack of accountability of any state in the country. The state scored a D or worse in 12 of the 14 categories. The state’s biggest problem is the absence of a strong ethics enforcement agency. Republican governor Sonny Perdue managed to get an ethics bill through the legislature, but by the time it passed, his proposals to ban gifts to state workers and clearly define appropriate campaign spending had been stripped out. According to State Integrity reporter Jim Walls, while Georgia has provisions to prevent certain kinds of corruption in campaign finance and lobbying, the state is full of unaddressed loopholes and lax enforcement. “About 2,000 Georgia officials, including one in five sitting legislators, have failed to pay penalties for filing their disclosures late, or not at all.”

Michael B. Sauter, Charles B. Stockdale

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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article attributed a quote about political machines to State Integrity Investigation reporter Teri Finneman in error. In fact, this quote was given by Randy Barrett, director of communications for the the Center for Public Integrity.