New York Politicians Most Corrupt In U.S., Study Finds

Nov 13, 2015 12:33 PM EST
Corruption
"We're talking about a gold medal-winning corruption performance by New York," John Kaehny, executive director advocacy group Reinvent Albany, told Public Integrity. "It's a pretty bleak moment for public governance."

New York has won the title of the most politically corrupt state in the U.S., setting a national record for the number of lawmakers kicked out or chased out of office since 2012, according to a new study released this week.

No other state has outdone New York in terms of corruption, where ethical or criminal violations have forced out 14 lawmakers since 2012, according to the report from the Center for Public Integrity, which measured overall government accountability and transparency.

Those 14 lawmakers do not include former Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is currently on trial for accepting millions in bribes and kickbacks, or former Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who federal prosecutors charged with bribery, extortion and fraud. His trial is scheduled to begin later this month, according to The New York Post. Public Integrity notes that Skelos was the fifth straight Senate leader to be slapped with corruption charges.

"We're talking about a gold medal-winning corruption performance by New York," John Kaehny, executive director advocacy group Reinvent Albany, told Public Integrity. "It's a pretty bleak moment for public governance."

In terms of overall transparency and accountability, New York came in 30th place nationwide with a score of 61 - a D-minus - tying with Florida. Alaska ranked highest, though only with a grade of a C.

The lack of transparency in New York "extends through much of state government, including a Board of Elections hobbled by politics and understaffing and a procurement process that critics say does little to prevent fraud and corruption," the report says.

One of the best examples is the state's "three men in a room" secretive budgeting process, which was given an F grade, putting it in dead last for the budgeting category.

Public Integrity explains: "The governor and legislative leaders make key budget decisions behind closed doors - a system that's become known as 'three men in a room' - which allows neither the public nor most lawmakers to provide meaningful input. Lawmakers often rush budget bills through the voting process using emergency legislation....The final budget is virtually impossible for the general public to navigate, a labyrinthine book of numbers that gives little insight into the negotiations that led to it."

Still, New York fared better than the 11 other states that received an overall grade of F.

The Empire State earned the top score for its auditing practices - a B+ - largely due to its well-funded state comptroller's office, which is led by Thomas DiNapoli, an elected official who is largely protected from interference by the governor or Legislature and has shown little hesitation to go after frivolous state agencies, according to USA Today. For example, the office recently audited the state's Medicaid program and identified $500 million in waste.

To score the states, Public Integrity looked at 245 specific measures that asked "about key indicators of transparency and accountability, looking not only at what the laws say, but also how well they're enforced or implemented." Each state then received letter grades in 13 categories, including access to information, political finance, electoral oversight, executive accountability, legislative accountability, judicial accountability, state budget processes, civil service oversight, internal auditing, procurement, ethics oversight, lobbying regulations, and management of state pension funds.

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