What else still needs to be done?
Maine has earned an “F” from a national organization’s first-in-the-nation assessment of accountability and transparency across the 50 states.
Maine ranked 46th in the “State Integrity Investigation” by three nonpartisan, national and international journalism and good government groups.
The score was based on research into 330 indicators on both the laws and practices in 14 categories, from procurement to campaign disclosure to lobbying.
No state got an A, leading the groups to conclude “statehouses remain ripe for self dealing and corruption.”
A leader of the study said a low score means Maine lacks the laws, regulation and enforcement to ensure residents are “getting the performance they hoped to see” from state government.
“For a state that ranks towards the bottom like Maine, these numbers matter a lot because they may help explain why budgets are not flush, why roads aren’t repaired, why there are tax loopholes,” said Nathaniel Heller, executive director of Global Integrity, which collaborated with the Center for Public Integrity and Public Radio International on the investigation.
In Maine, the research was done by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, based in Augusta. The Center’s research was then analyzed by the three sponsoring groups, which came up with the scores.
No states received an “A” from the investigation and only five got a grade of “B.” Maine was one of eight states to get a failing grade. The others are North Dakota, Michigan, South Carolina, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia.
While those states are not generally known for high-profile corruption cases, some states that are notorious received some of the best grades. New Jersey, for example, got the highest score, a B+.
A statement from the survey groups CPI explained the apparent contradiction:
The study “does not rely on a simple tally of scandals. Rather, it measures the strength of laws and practices that encourage openness and deter corruption. … States with well-known scandals often have the tough laws and enforcement that bring them to light. ‘Quiet’ states may be at a higher risk, with few means to surface corrupt practices.”
Maine got an F in nine of the 14 categories, including executive accountability. A problem that contributed to that score was that fact that no agency oversees the ethics of top-level state officials, from the governor to department heads, from the attorney general to the state auditor.
It also got F’s in public access to information, civil service management, pension fund management, the insurance commission, legislative accountability, lobbying disclosure, ethics enforcement and redistricting.
The state got a D+ in judicial accountability and political financing and a C- in the budget process and procurement. It got one A: in internal auditing.
Other highlights in the report include:
• While the state collects financial disclosure statements from executive branch employees, the ethics commission has never mounted investigations of those disclosures, according to Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.
A 2009 report by the commission states: “Maine is one of 11 states which do not have an independent agency that regulates the professional ethics of the executive branch of government.”
Wayne said, “We barely have any jurisdiction. We’re limited to legislative ethics.”
That means problems, including possible conflicts of interest, can fall through the cracks.
• Maine has no “revolving door” law covering top state officials moving into the private industries they had regulated.
A case study occurred in 2007-2008 when Maine’s chief utilities regulator, Kurt Adams, negotiated for and ultimately accepted a job offer and “equity units”or shares
from a prominent wind power developer while still head of his agency – and when the developer had business before the agency.
Adams left his job as the head of the state’s Public Utilities Commission in May, 2008 to work for First Wind. Later, Adams and company officials said that despite statements First Wind had made in federal filings about when it had granted him the shares, the company had made a mistake and had granted the securities only after Adams had left the PUC in mid-May.
A subsequent investigation by the state’s attorney general found that Adams had violated no state laws – an illustration of the fact that Maine has no meaningful revolving door regulations, said Maine League of Women Voters former chairman Ann Luther.
“I think there’s a hole there, no restriction at all,” Luther said. “There’s nothing there, nothing!”
Continue reading the rest of the article here.
Also carried in:
Portland Press Herald
Bangor Daily News
Barbara Walsh, Mary Helen Miller and Jeff Clark contributed to this report. The Maine Center for Public Interest reporting is on the web at pinetreewatchdog.org. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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