Keeping government honest

About the State Integrity investigation



State government is playing an increasingly important role in American politics and policy, with both the general public and, apparently, the lobbying industry, looking more and more to the states for solutions rather than to Washington.

At the same time, corruption and scandal continue to plague state governments nationwide. Recent years have seen corruption-related charges or convictions of the house or assembly speakers of Alabama, Rhode Island, South Carolina and New York. The former governor of Virginia was convicted. The governor of Oregon resigned. The list goes on.

The State Integrity Investigation is an in-depth collaboration designed to assess transparency, accountability, ethics and oversight in state government, spotlight the states that are doing things right and expose practices that undermine trust in state capitals.

How does the State Integrity Investigation work?

The State Integrity Investigation is data-driven analysis of each state’s laws and practices aimed at deterring corruption and promoting accountability and openness. The project was first carried out in 2011-2012 and has been completely updated with new research and reporting in 2015. For round two, experienced journalists graded each state government using 245 specific measures, or “indicators.”

The Investigation ranked every state from one to 50. Each state received a report card with letter grades in 13 categories, including access to information, political finance, electoral oversight, executive accountability, legislative accountability, judicial accountability, state budget processes, civil service oversight, internal auditing, procurement, ethics oversight, lobbying regulations, and management of state pension funds.

Does the Investigation measure corruption?

No. The project is not a measure of corruption, but of state governments’ overall accountability and transparency. The Investigation looks at both the laws in place and the “in practice” implementation of those laws in order to assess the systems that are meant to prevent corruption and expose it when it does occur.

How were the grades and scores determined?

Before launching the project in 2011, the Investigation consulted nearly 100 government integrity experts to determine what to measure, then created its State Integrity Index with 330 “corruption risk indicators.” In preparation for round two, the Investigation returned to many of those experts in 2014 and drew on experiences from the first round to revise and condense these to a more focused 245 indicators.

Journalists in each state conducted interviews and research to score the indicators, based on detailed scoring criteria. Editors at Global Integrity and the Center for Public Integrity reviewed the journalists’ work for accuracy and internal consistency. Experts in every state then independently reviewed the data.

You can view the scoring criteria, reporter notes, references, and reviewer notes by clicking on any category and then on specific indicators. You can also read more about our methodology.

Why are the scores not directly comparable to round one?

In an effort to improve the project and keep it current with emerging issues such as independent political spending and the growing expectation of access to open data, the Investigation made a number of narrowly focused changes to the indicators and methodology for round two.

First, the Investigation eliminated two categories: Redistricting and State Insurance Commissions; the former because it is a process that generally occurs only once every 10 years, the latter because a review of the data showed it wasn’t central to the project’s goals. The Investigation also added one new category — Electoral Oversight — which subsequent research and experience showed to be integral to government transparency and accountability.

In other categories, some questions were condensed and others were edited to more accurately address the issues they are intended to highlight. Scoring criteria were adjusted to better account for nuances in the laws. In the vast majority of cases, the indicators examine the same issues, even if they do so in slightly different ways.

Finally, the methodology was more rigorous across the board for round two, requiring the reporters to supply more specificity.

Because of these changes, the scores are not directly comparable.

Who paid for the Investigation?

This project was produced with support from Omidyar Network, the Rita Allen Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Who are the project partners?

The State Integrity Investigation is a partnership of the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity. Global Integrity supports progress toward open and accountable governance in countries and communities around the world. 

How do I get more information?

You can contact State Integrity Investigation project manager Nicholas Kusnetz on

Contact us

The State Integrity Investigation invites local and national media to both report on our findings and use Investigation data to construct additional stories. We can provide spreadsheets and other material to help journalists shine light on their state government's openness and accountability. 

For media inquiries or to arrange interviews with the State Integrity Investigation’s researchers or journalists, please contact:

William Gray
Center for Public Integrity 


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