Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Maryland 40th in State Integrity Poll

The Center for Public Integrity, in partnership with Global Integrity and Public Radio International, has initiated the "State Integrity Investigation" Project to evaluate corruption in State Government. 

Maryland's report card would not find itself on any refrigerator doors and may get the car keys revoked -- D minus.  40th of 50.

Obviously, for a project like this it is important to look at the objective metrics and check for subjective interpretation.  Assigning letter grades can be arbitrary unless backed up by a sound methodology.  While the "method" may be somewhat obscure, the work that went into this report is impressive.  If you click on the link above, you will find hyperlink after hyperlink that lead to multiple sources for each data point.  These grades break down into Russian dolls that often connect back to "Yes or no" questions.  These responses can then be compared against what is being done in other states to create a comparative grade.

Overall, the SIP review found that Maryland's lawmaking process was not transparent, available for manipulation, and that safeguards to protect against graft, like...ahem...audits, were often ignored.

The report goes on to state that while there are effective "cooling off" periods for legislators that leave the General Assembly, the barrier between the Executive Branch and a career lobbying in Annapolis is a "revolving door".

The most offensive findings relate to the State's contracting arm: "Auditors also found that state officials asked multiple construction firms to cook their books to help conceal overspending."

The Office of Legislative Audits is the hero in all of this, but one that is often thwarted by the legislators ability to steadfastly ignore the Office's reports.  Maryland Reporter's Len Lazarick is quoted as saying that OLA’s “great reports” often “go down this black hole" and that the agencies found to be acting inappropriately or in a wasteful manner "say they’re correcting the problems, but sometimes they don’t."

Most interesting is the discussion of "green bag" nominations, which the report indicates are used by the Democratic party to keep and expand their power in the State.  The report comes up a little short in explaining how these nominations are used as a tool of partisan cronyism, particularly since a good number of these appointments are non-paying figure-head positions.

With regard to transparency, and access to information, Maryland came in 46th.  This surprised me a little as someone who spends a great deal of time looking up government reports and laws online.  The biggest difference seems to be between "what the government wants you to see" and "what you want to see."  The State of Maryland controls the content of its website, but, according to this report, Public Information Requests are subject to a litany of exceptions and often go unanswered.  The State also puts up "motivational stumbling blocks", by making some records only available in person, despite being filed electronically (i.e., Asset and Investment disclosure forms).

My favorite line from the report is from the Almanac of American Politics - “Much of Maryland’s political history reads like a chronicle of rogues.”  (Aspiring Bloggers - "Chronicle of Rogues" would be a great blog title.)  This report indicates that while most of our lawmakers may be honest public servants, the doors to the State Treasury have been left open to the corrupt, incompetent, and wasteful interests of those malicious few (and their cronies) who would seek to violate the public trust.  The good thing is that this report provides a premise for action.  The bad thing is that just like so many audit reports, the presumption is that the SIP Report will be ignored.

This is unacceptable and demands remedy, but the real question is - What level of egregious conduct will prompt the public to act?  Where are our good government candidates?  Can 2014, with all of the open seats across the State, be that remedy?

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!