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Report: Virgin Islands Is No. 2 In The Country In Public Corruption, Only D.C. Is Worse

public corruption per capita

CHARLOTTE AMALIE – The Virgin Islands ranks No. 2 in the country for public corruption, according to the latest report from the Center For Public Integrity.

Only the District of Columbia had more convictions per year at 66.9 per year, while the territory was second with 46.9 per year followed closely by Guam in third place at 40.5 per year.

Rounding out the top ten were North Dakota in fourth place at 8.3 per year; Alaska in fifth at 7.9 yearly; Louisiana in sixth at 7.5; Mississippi in seventh at 7.4; Montana in eighth at 6.4; Kentucky was ninth at 5.9 and Alabama was tenth at 5.6.

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s indictment on charges that he accepted illegal gifts, vacations and loans from a major campaign contributor who sought special treatment is so shocking, in part, because McDonnell is the first governor in the history of the Commonwealth to face criminal charges. Unlike plenty of other states, Virginia doesn’t have a long history of scandals and ethics abuses.

Which states are more used to corruption? Well, depending on how you define corruption, it could be Florida, or Louisiana, or Tennessee, or New York, or Georgia. And then there’s the District of Columbia.

Here’s how each of the above won its dubious distinction:

In Georgia, more than 650 government employees accepted gifts from vendors doing business with the state in 2007 and 2008, clearly violating state ethics law. The last time the state issued a penalty on a vendor was 1999.

A North Carolina legislator sponsored and voted on a bill to loosen regulations on billboard construction, even though he co-owned five billboards in the state. When the ethics commission reviewed the case, it found no conflict; after all, the panel reasoned, the legislation would benefit all billboard owners in the state – not just the lawmaker who pushed for the bill.

Tennessee established its ethics commission six years ago, but has yet to issue a single ethics penalty. It’s almost impossible to know whether the oversight is effectively working, because complaints are not made available to the public.

A West Virginia governor borrowed a car from his local dealership to take it for a “test drive.” He kept the car for four years, during which the dealership won millions in state contracts.

When representatives of a biotech company took Montana legislators out to dinner, they neither registered as lobbyists nor reported the fact that they picked up the bill. They didn’t have to – the law only requires registration upon spending $2,400 during a legislative session.

And in Maine, one state senator did not disclose $98 million in state contracts that went to an organization for which he served as executive director. The lack of disclosure was not an oversight; due to a loophole in state law, he was under no obligation to do so. The stories go on and on. Open records laws with hundreds of exemptions.  Crucial budgeting decisions made behind closed doors by a handful of power brokers.

“Citizen” lawmakers voting on bills that would benefit them directly. Scores of legislators turning into lobbyists seemingly overnight. Disclosure laws without much disclosure. Ethics panels that haven’t met in years.

State officials make lofty promises when it comes to ethics in government. They tout the transparency of legislative processes, accessibility of records, and the openness of public meetings. But these efforts often fall short of providing any real transparency or legitimate hope of rooting out corruption.

That’s the depressing bottom line that emerges from the State Integrity Investigation, a first-of-its-kind, data-driven assessment of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms in all 50 states. Not a single state — not one — earned an A grade from the months-long probe.

Only five states earned  a B grade: New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California, and Nebraska. Nineteen states got C’s and 18 received D’s. Eight states earned failing grades of 59 or below from the project, which is a collaboration of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.

The F’s went to Michigan, North Dakota, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Georgia.

What’s behind the dismal grades? Across the board, state ethics, open records and disclosure laws lack one key feature: teeth.

“It’s a terrible problem,” said Tim Potts, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Democracy Rising PA, which works to inspire citizen trust in government.  “A good law isn’t worth anything if it’s not enforced.”

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy has been reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Caribbean region since 1989. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan.

1 Comment

  1. Carolyn Keys
    January 2, 2017 at 2:30 PM — Reply

    Keep up the reports. The People should know the facts.

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