A new assessment of the potential for corruption in state government is out. And only eight states rank lower than Virginia.
It all started with corruption trial of former governor Bob McDonnell. Shruti Shah at the Coalition for Integrity was blogging about the trial, and she realized that state laws governing what kinds of gifts elected officials can receive were pretty thin.
That gave her an idea. “I should come up with a comparative scorecard on certain ethics and transparency related legislation in the 50 states and DC," Shah remembered. "So that really was the inspiration for what is now the SWAMP Index.”
The SWAMP index gives Virginia a score of 35, which Shah points out is a failing grade. SWAMP is an acronym for States With Anti-corruption Measures for Public officials.
She says the poor performance is mainly due to a weak ethics agency.
“It doesn’t have the authority to hold public hearings. It doesn’t have subpoena power. And really, in terms of its authority to initiate and conduct its own investigations as well, the powers aren’t very strong.”
Lawmakers passed some reforms in the wake of the McDonnell trial. But Shah says they didn’t accomplish all that much. She says an agency that could subpoena documents and conduct investigations would be a stronger commitment to ethics.