Integrity report flunks Delaware

DOVER — A new report from the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity gives Delaware a failing grade in government integrity.

The report, developed by the center and journalists in every state, “is an in-depth collaboration designed to assess transparency, accountability, ethics and oversight in state government, spotlight the states that are doing things right and expose practices that undermine trust in state capitals.”

Delaware received a score of 56 — an F — ranking it 48th in the survey. The state scored particularly low for legislative accountability, judicial accountability and pension management. Of the 13 categories, Delaware finished with a D+, two D’s, a C-and nine F’s.

The low grades can be traced to a number of factors, including the fact financial statements from public figures are not audited, state-run pension funds are not transparent and there are limited restrictions on judges jumping from the public to the private sector and legislators weighing in on issues in which they have conflicts of interest.

The lack of resources for the state’s Public Integrity Commission and minimal oversight on audits submitted by officials are the biggest reasons the state scored so low.

Delaware earned a C- in 2012. This year, Alaska finished first with a C grade, and 36 states received a D or worse.

The First State has passed open government laws in recent years, including a 2009 bill granting the public access to General Assembly meetings. However, an amendment tacked on to the proposal exempted emails from lawmakers and their staff from Freedom of Information Act requests.

Rep. John Kowalko

Rep. John Kowalko

Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, who has advocated for open government, criticized his colleagues and other officials in a statement.

“I have been, and remain, very concerned about Delaware’s transparency, accountability and openness for some time and did not need to see our ‘F’ ranking in order to guess it accurately,” he wrote. “We have an obligation to our citizens, taxpayers and ourselves to correct these disparities and flaws that prohibit or impede public scrutiny and allow opportunities for more duplicitous behavior by agencies and elected officials. … Please do not underestimate the potential for inadvertent or insidious manipulation of information that would result if Delaware’s system for transparency and openness is not corrected.”

A 2011 report from former Delaware Chief Justice Norman Veasey found evidence of wrongdoing in political donations from several individuals and companies and called for reforms. The report cited legislation expanding liquor sales, bills that saw action after liquor executive Christopher Tigani provided gifts to several lawmakers. Tigani was later sentenced to a two-year prison term.

“We need to require political donors to disclose their occupations and employers to help prevent fraud, ban gifts to lawmakers from lobbyists and donations from limited liability corporations and require professional lobbyists to pay ‘meaningful filing and oversight fees’ to help fund the Public Integrity Commission,” said Claire Snyder-Hall, the program director of Common Cause Delaware, in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Jack Markell said the governor, a Democrat, remains interested in increasing accountability. She cited a 2011 executive order standardizing FOIA requirements across state agencies, as well as laws dealing with lobbyists and campaign finance, as positive changes made under Gov. Markell’s tenure.

“We have a never-ending responsibility to look for ways to increase government transparency and strengthen the public’s confidence in our political process,” Kelly Bachman said in an email. “While we have more work to do, Delaware government and the people involved in politics are more accountable to the public than ever before. The state has achieved considerable progress in recent years by making it easier for the public to obtain government documents, expanding disclosure of campaign donations and improving lobbying laws.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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