Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International compiled data and their study results were released on Monday.
State governments are rated according to transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption efforts and while none of the 50 states were given an A grade, eight failed with an F.
Each was assigned a letter grade based on 300 government integrity indicators and while not one state reached the status necessary to each an A, four other U.S. states besides New Jersey were given some type of B grade, including California (B-), Washington (B-), Connecticut (B) and Nebraska (B-).
While at first glance it seems illogical for New Jersey to lead the nation in a survey that graded corruption and for Illinois to get a solid C, the data was not based on convictions for corruption in the state or the number of legislators accused of misconduct.
Rather, the Center for Public Integrity reported on its website that "...across the board, state ethics, open records and disclosure laws lack one key feature: teeth."
It resulted in a report that rewarded states who find and punish transgressors rather than merely trusting that lawmakers and members of government will do the right things.
"State officials tout the transparency of legislative processes, accessibility of records, and the openness of public meetings. But these efforts often fall short of providing any real transparency or legitimate hope of rooting out corruption."
For example, while there may be "open records" statutes on the books, the number of exemptions makes them less than effective. Budgets are finalized in a closed forum. Lawmakers with vested interests in legislation were not recused from votes.
The swinging door of lobbying firms welcoming newly out-of-work state office holders as well as disclosure rules that may be named as such, but don't meet even the most generous of standards contributed to states failing or being scored low.
States given an F grade were Michigan, North Dakota, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Georgia
Western states as well as those that are sparsely populated may dispute the Center for Public Integrity's way of studying transparency and effective ethical standards.
From the Center's report of today: "Peggy Kerns, director of the Center for Ethics in Government at the National Conference of State Legislatures, noted that ethics laws are shaped by the environment and culture of the state. 'In smaller states, the culture is different,' she said. 'It is harder to disobey the law and go against your own moral core if everyone knows you.'”
Most times it is the discovery of corruption that leads to legislation which can explain N.J's topping the list after extensive lawmaking efforts to combat transgressions. The same seems to be true in Louisiana after Governor Bobby Jindal was elected in 2008.
For the complete list of state ratings and numerical scores, the Center for Public Integrity's website is linked here.