It’s early January, when New Year’s resolutions seem attainable, extra pounds from the holidays losable, and sound policy from new state legislative sessions at least possible. By now, 14 state capitals have welcomed their lawmakers back to town, and before the month is out, another 23 sessions will begin.
Over the next few weeks, legislators from Albany to Anchorage will introduce thousands of bills covering all sorts of topics. And in a handful of states, including New York, South Carolina and New Mexico, there’s a particular focus on ethics and open government — subjects covered in depth by the State Integrity Investigation, a data-driven evaluation and ranking of state government transparency and accountability published in November by the Center and Global Integrity.
On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri said ethics reform would be his top priority this year, and called on the legislature to enact limits on campaign contributions, a ban on gifts from lobbyists and a halt to the “revolving door” of lawmakers becoming lobbyists immediately after leaving office. Each of those issues contributed to Missouri’s D- grade from the State Integrity Investigation. The project detailed the scope of the conflicts of interest and back-room dealings that plague state governments nationwide.
The investigation has yielded calls for reform in several states, and as Missouri makes clear, the project can also help point officials and advocates toward solutions and “best practices.” The state grades are based on 245 “indicators” of openness and accountability — whether lawmakers must disclose their finances, for example, or whether ethics watchdogs have adequate funding — which are divided into 13 categories. There’s a wealth of data behind each of those indicators. Here’s a guide for how to find it using our interactive app.