By Justin Snow
In the midst of a session that has seen ethics and transparency pushed into the spotlight, two reports released this week gave the state poor rankings on both issues.
A nationwide report conducted by the State Integrity Investigation ranked Maryland 40th out of 50 states for corruption prevention, awarding the state a D- on their report card. Half the states scored D or less.
In their explanation, the nonpartisan organization notes the state’s history of political corruption dating back to Democratic Gov. Marvin Mandel’s imprisonment for racketeering and mail fraud — a conviction later overturned — to Republican Vice President Spiro Agnew’s prosecution for bribery and tax fraud during his service as governor.
The report card is broken down into various categories, including public access to information, internal auditing, and ethics enforcement. The investigation blames the state’s poor ranking on limited accountability of the executive and legislative branches due to unchecked Democratic control, a revolving door between lobbyists and government officials, failure to correct audit findings, and limited data access across the board.
The project was a joint effort by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.
Raquel Guillory, communications director for Gov. Martin O’Malley’s office, which received an F for executive accountability, questioned the methodology used by the organization. Guillory noted the report’s reliance on secondary news reports and said overall the findings were “very flawed.” (MarylandReporter.com editor and publisher Len Lazarick was interviewed for the report last September.)
“We take pride in our website and we take pride in responding to reporters in a timely manner,” said Guillory, adding that several of the report card categories were out of the realm of the executive branch.
Maryland joined 17 other states in receiving a D from the State Integrity Investigation, with neighboring Virginia receiving an F on their report card. New Jersey received the highest grade with a B+.
Grade improves on another report
Another report released this week by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group was less harsh, awarding Maryland a C+ for government spending transparency. The grade defines Maryland as an “emerging state,” meaning the state’s website has checkbook-level information that can be searched but lacks comprehensive details. It was a slight improvement over the past two years, during which Maryland had received a C.
Maryland PIRG has been ranking states across the country for three years as they move toward “transparency 2.0,” the organization’s set standard for budget accountability and accessibility. By analyzing states’ transparency websites, the organization reviews the ease with which comprehensive budget documents can be searched and accessed.
Despite the varied focuses of the two reports, both agreed that a great deal of state information is inaccessible electronically and must be obtained in person — a fact that has not been lost on some lawmakers. A bill currently advancing in the Senate would post thousands of conflict of interest and financial disclosure documents online.
Although recent years have brought revamped data-heavy websites like StateStat as officials work toward improved transparency, the General Assembly’s website has remained largely unchanged since the 1990s.