The 2015 State Integrity Investigation is out today, measuring hundreds of variables to compile transparency and accountability grades for all 50 states. The grades aren’t good; Alaska, which scored the best in the nation, earned a C, and only two other states earned better than a D+. Eleven states failed. Idaho got a D-, with an overall score of 62; that score hardly budged from a similar assessment published in 2012. Idaho tied for 26th place among the states – up from 41st three years ago – but only because other states’ scores declined.
The State Integrity Investigation was conducted by the Center for Public Integrity, and measured everything from the openness of state budget processes to loopholes in public records laws to effectiveness of state ethics commissions (Idaho doesn’t have one, and got an F grade and ranked 49th in the nation in the category for ethics enforcement agencies). The center hired one reporter in each state to research hundreds of data points, a process that took more than a year; I was the reporter for Idaho, a freelance assignment that was approved in advance by my newspaper.
As in the previous investigation (in which I also participated), Idaho’s scores were dragged down by the state’s complete lack of personal financial disclosure laws for any of its elected or appointed officials, something nearly all states require, and its lack of “revolving door” rules preventing public officials from going directly into private-sector or lobbying work involving the same matters they previously handled in government. That contributed to F grades for legislative, executive and judicial accountability, as well as failing grades for civil service management and state pension fund management.
The state’s best score was for its state budget process, for which it earned an A and ranked 2nd in the nation; that’s largely because the entire process is open and all documents are easily available to the public online. Other high points were electoral oversight, on which Idaho earned a B and ranked 3rd in the nation; and internal auditing, also a B, with a 10th in the nation ranking. Idaho voters passed a constitutional amendment in 1994 to move the internal auditing function out of the state’s executive branch and make it independent, as it audits executive-branch agencies; it now falls under the Legislative Services Office. Political financing and lobbying disclosure also were among high points, though Idaho earned a D+ in both areas; the state ranked 15th and 17th in the nation for those, respectively.
The investigation didn’t measure corruption; instead, it focused on the systems in place designed to promote accountability and prevent corruption. It also included questions about whether state governments adhere to “open data” principles, making public information available in digitally searchable form and following other accessibility standards; nearly every state failed on that mark.
Idaho ranked 6th in the nation for public access to information, but its score earned the state only a D-. High points included a clear public records law that requires prompt responses; low points included a lack of any alternative when a citizen’s public records request is denied other than going to court to sue the government for access. State procurement practices earned a D+, ranking 29th in the nation.
You can read the full report on how Idaho scored here, and see the full national investigation here. And you can read S-R reporter Jim Camden's report on the investigation and how both Idaho and Washington fared here at spokesman.com. Idaho Statesman reporter Bill Dentzer has an in-depth look here.