West Virginia could pull ahead on ethics front

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West Virginia stands to gain at least 21 points in our States of Disclosure project, following passage of an ethics bill yesterday in the House of Delegates that appears likely to become law.

One of the major provisions of the bill would require legislators’ spouses to disclose their employment information, officer or director positions, and outside investments. The current law does not require any information of spouses — an important criteria in our survey. The state could also score points for requiring disclosure of lawmakers’ job titles and descriptions of any outside employment.

If the bill passes the state senate and becomes law, West Virginia, which failed our survey last year with only 45 points, could potentially move up the ranks to number 26 on the list, tying with Florida. Despite the significant jump, however, the state would still receive a D grade from the Center, mostly due to a complete lack of client and real property ownership information from legislators, neither of which seem to be addressed in the current proposal.

West Virginia delegates also approved an amendment to post disclosure forms online, boosting the state’s public accessibility score. West Virginia is currently in the minority of states that have yet to make their legislative financial disclosure information available in any electronic format.

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, who announced plans for a new ethics law last year, cited the Center’s survey and the failing grade we gave his state, specifically noting that zero points were awarded for spousal information. Theresa Kirk, executive director of the state’s ethics commission, also noticed the poor ranking and said she “considered it a good opportunity to look at our disclosure requirements.”