December 1, 2015: This article has been updated.
Immediately after a federal grand jury indicted Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley in April 2015 for tax evasion, perjury and other charges largely stemming from a business he ran before being elected, The Seattle Times declared him unfit to lead an office responsible for ensuring the integrity of public agencies and urged the Democrat to “quit, now.”
Kelley has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and is scheduled for trial in March.
The Times editorial took aim not only at Kelley’s alleged crimes – accusations which Kelley’s Republican rival had widely disseminated to the media before their 2012 race for the auditor post – but also the fact that his case tarnished Washington’s “well-deserved reputation for clean government.”
If such reputation is based on the rarity of public officials being found guilty of corruption in federal courts, then Washington could well claim to be one of the nation’s cleanest states. A 2012 report by the University of Illinois at Chicago, for instance, concluded that only Oregon had a lower per-capita rate for federal corruption convictions.
Yet Washington’s self-perception as a model state for government accountability and transparency doesn’t quite match up findings from the latest State Integrity Investigation carried out by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity. Washington scored 67, or D+, which was good enough to rank it 8th in the nation. That’s a big fall from Washington’s No. 3 ranking in the 2012 State Integrity report. Because of scoring changes, the two results are not directly comparable, but they do suggest a worrying trend.