By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
CHICAGO — Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island top a new government integrity list.
What’s the punchline?
A report from the Illinois-based Better Government Association has the three states, which historically have — shall we say — poor reputations for good government, atop its new Government Integrity Index.
“The states that had the brightest lights and the most heat on their sordid past, their corruption, have apparently taken the most, small, steps to make their governments more accountable and transparent,” BGA executive director Andy Shaw said.
Rhode Island topped the BGA’s index, scoring 69.79 out of 100. New Jersey scored 69.18 and Illinois scored 68.49 to round out the top three.
Not terribly impressive scores, Shaw noted.
“It’s really disappointing to say that on a scale of 1 to 100, the average integrity score of the 50 states was 55 percent. That is a failing grade on any exam, any place. It’s an F,” Shaw said. “The top scoring states, including Illinois, didn’t even reach 70 percent. They get, at best, a C- or a D+.”
“I think it is a measure of good,” countered University of Rhode Island political science professor Maureen Moakley. “I think it suggests a changing tide…And this goes, some way, toward changing people’s expectations. “
Moakley, who has written books about New Jersey’s political culture and watched the scandal-tainted past of Rhode Island for years,
said a state’s political culture is simply a mirror.
“That’s the definition of political culture, what people expect,” Moakely said, adding that the report hints that people may be expecting more.
Shaw said taxpayers in every state should have some basic expectations, which often are not met.
“Every American citizen has a right to a government that is open, accessible, welcoming and accountable,” Shaw said. “Where you can attend meetings without the door being shut in your face. Where you can review public documents without having to jump through a thousand hoops on a thousand days.”
The BGA study looked at Freedom of Information Act responses and open record laws in the 50 states, as well as laws regarding conflicts of interest and whistleblower protections.
Former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins, who helped convict former Illinois Gov. George Ryan for corruption, was quick to admit the integrity index is not a cure-all for troubled states.
Collins said voters need to demand change, but prosecutors “cannot indict” a state out of its corrupt past.
Moakley said the study “moves the needle toward higher expectations,” but is quick to add that some states without a history of corruption may not get much from the BGA report.
States with their own scandalous pasts, Shaw said, should be ashamed when Illinois and New Jersey outscore anyone on a government integrity test.
“The fact that Illinois scores well shows you how shamelessly poor everyone else scores,” Shaw scolded.
The BGA’s Integrity Index lowest scorers were Delaware, South Carolina and Vermont.
Contact Benjamin Yount at [email protected] or find him on Twitter @BenYount.