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'State Integrity Investigation' has blockbuster first year

Seven state legislatures have ethics reform on the docket, four states have already new laws on the books

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It’s been exactly one year since publication of the State Integrity Investigation, an unprecedented, data-driven analysis of transparency and accountability in all 50 states — and a lot has happened since. The project — a collaboration of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International, with cooperation from the Investigative News Network — has been quoted, praised, assailed or otherwise cited by hundreds of news outlets, good-government groups and legislators. The project was also a finalist for the prestigious Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting awarded by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Clearly, the idea of measuring accountability and transparency in state government has touched a reformist nerve — and our package is continuing to resonate across the country.

Since the State Integrity Investigation was launched, reform efforts have been initiated in 16 states. Four of those states — Delaware, Iowa, Maine and Rhode Island — have passed laws or issued executive orders improving disclosure and access to public information. Lawmakers in seven other states have proposed a broad slate of measures that would strengthen ethics oversight, tighten campaign finance reporting and more.

The ongoing 2013 legislative sessions have seen a flurry of activity. The Florida Senate and Georgia House have each passed major ethics reform bills that would strengthen ethics enforcement and reign in spending by lobbyists and independent campaign committees. While watchdogs say the bills contain serious flaws, the measures nonetheless could represent the first major reform efforts in those states in decades. Significant legislation has also been introduced in South Carolina, Maine and North Dakota.

Where legislators have been slow to act, in some cases the executive branch has stepped in. Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee created a new online portal in January 2013 to display audits, contracts and other financial documents in searchable format. Chafee's office has been working with Global Integrity, a partner in the State Integrity Investigation, to bolster open government practices. In Oklahoma, Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger said his agency had improved online access and added thousands of records to public websites over the previous 12 months.

Since release of the State Integrity Investigation, the Center has published a series of pieces highlighting systemic transparency issues that continue to plague state governments nationwide. You can read some of those, below. Visit the main project site for a wealth of data on transparency and accountability in each of the 50 states.