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Survey Shows Most States Fail at Disclosure
By Stephen Smith
February 15, 1999


1 Washington 98
2 Alabama 96
3 Alaska 95
4 Hawaii 91.5
5 Arizona 91
6 Wisconsin 88
6 Texas 88
8 Virginia 85.5
9 New York 85
10 North Carolina 82.5
11 Oregon 82
12 California 81
13 Connecticut 80
13 Rhode Island 80
15 Missouri 76.5
16 South Carolina 76
16 Colorado 76
18 Arkansas 75
18 Massachusetts 75
20 Maryland 71
21 Kentucky 70
22 Ohio 66
23 Kansas 64.5
24 Florida 64
25 New Mexico 60.5
26 Delaware 59
27 Nevada 56.5
28 Mississippi 55.5
29 Indiana 54.5
30 New Jersey 54
31 Tennessee 49.5
31 North Dakota 49.5
33 Maine 49
33 Georgia 49
35 Minnesota 48.5
36 Oklahoma 48
36 Montana 48
36 Nebraska 48
39 Pennsylvania 47.5
40 South Dakota 47
41 Wyoming 45
42 Illinois 43.5
43 West Virginia 36.5
44 New Hampshire 36
45 Iowa 33.5
46 Louisiana 32
49 Utah 1
50 Vermont 1
50 Michigan 1
50 Idaho 1

Source: Center for Public Integrity

WHEN YOU ELECT A LOCAL LAWMAKER and send her to the state capitol, she works for you and your neighbors, right? Check again. A report released today by a Washington research group says that most states - including Minnesota - have inadequate laws to prevent financial conflicts among local lawmakers. The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), a nonpartisan government watchdog, conducted what may be the first comprehensive study of ethics and disclosure laws in the 50 states. It gave a "failing" grade to half the states, and a "barely passing" grade to 11 others. Only 14 states merited approval from CPI.

"The financial-disclosure rules applying to America's state legislators may be more loophole than law ", says Charles Lewis, CPI's Executive Director. "In many, many cases there appears to be no genuine interest in telling the public where they money on the side. "

Because 41 of the 50 state legislatures are part-time, lawmakers generally have to keep their outside jobs. That mix of public and private business is what many political scientists say is the essence of a citizen democracy. But Lewis contends it can also lead to trouble for some lawmakers.

"They're taking money on the side from a utility company or a toxic waste company and they don't want the public to know about it. In virtually every case, its up to them whether or not they want to tell the public in terms of filing these forms you would think would be required in a democracy, " Lewis says.

On the national level, members of Congress essentially give up their outside jobs when they get elected. Federal law requires them to file annual disclosure reports showing their outside income, their investments and any gifts they receive.

CPI's study ranked the states on how aggressive their disclosure and ethics laws are. Washington, Alabama, Alaska and Hawaii topped the list. At the bottom, Utah, Idaho, Michigan and Vermont scored poorly because CPI found those states have virtually no meaningful disclosure requirements.

University of Akron Political Science Professor John Green says tougher ethics laws are needed in many states because lawmakers are under greater pressure from lobbyists and special interest groups.

"We've seen that particularly in the 1990s. More and more federal money and more and more responsibility for policy areas are coming back to the state capitols. So, individual members of the state legislature are dealing with larger amounts of money and more controversial issues on a regular basis. These things used to be debated largely in congress, " Green says.

The CPI report says that disclosure and ethics laws in most states do not offer enough details for voters to really judge whether their elected representatives have a conflict-of-interest. Among the report's findings:
  • Lawmakers in 37 states do not have to list a dollar value for their business activities or investments, or only have to give broad ranges.
  • Thirty states allow legislators in certain classes - accountants, consultants, lawyers, and other such professionals - to keep the identities and business interests of their clients secret.
  • Lawmakers in 19 states do not have to provide any information about real estate they own.
  • Lawmakers in 18 states do not have to provide any information about their spouse's employment and earnings, even if the spouse's livelihood is provided by one or more interests that the lawmaker regulates.
  • Lawmakers in 18 states do not have to provide any information about stock owned by spouses or other members of their immediate families, potentially hiding conflicts from the press and the public.
  • Lawmakers in 11 states do not have to identify corporations, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, in which they are officers or directors.
  • Lawmakers in seven states do not have to list companies in which they own stock, making it all but impossible for anyone else to assess potential conflicts.
The CPI report offers no broad solutions to the frayed patchwork of state laws. Lewis says its up to the citizens of each state to prod their lawmakers into passing tougher ethics and disclosure systems.

Stephen Smith is Chief Correspondent for American Radio Works. You can reach him at

Hidden Agendas Home | Overview | The Case of Roy Ray: Conflict or Not?
The Story of Dallas Sams | Complete CPI Report