Report: Virginia among states most at risk for corruption

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RICHMOND — Virginia is among the states most at risk for public corruption, receiving a failing grade in a state integrity investigation conducted by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.

The investigation, released Monday, was not a tally of government scandals or criminal convictions, but rather a score based on a state integrity index that ranked 330 “corruption risk indicators” in 14 categories, including campaign finance, internal auditing and lobbyist disclosure.

Virginia got an F, and its score of 55 ranked 47th out of 50 states.

Virginia’s lack of a statewide ethics commission really hurt its score, said Randy Barrett, a spokesman for the Center for Public Integrity.

“The fact that the state has no ethics commission is just huge,” he said. “That there’s no official watchdog overlooking the state is just huge.”

According to the report, Virginia is one of just nine states without a statewide ethics commission and one of four states with no campaign finance limits.

Virginia did receive an A for its internal auditing and procurement process but came up short — badly — in other areas.

The report cites several shortcomings in the state’s Freedom of Information Act, from which the State Corporation Commission — which regulates businesses, financial institutions and utilities — is exempted. The act also doesn’t apply to constitutional officers such as sheriffs.

New Jersey, with a score of 87, was the highest-ranked state, while Georgia, at 49, was the lowest. Maryland ranked 40th, with a score of 61, or a D-minus.

The General Assembly addressed some areas of concern this year.

Nearly 200 state tax preferences were written into Virginia’s code that had no consistent evaluation process, and the identities of recipients are shielded under state law.

A recent report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission disclosed that in 2008, the preferences — which include incentives and credits — cost state taxpayers nearly $12.5 billion.

The assembly approved legislation that would require new or existing state tax credits to expire after five years.

Delegate Scott A. Surovell, Fairfax Democrat, introduced legislation this year that would require recipients of tax credits of at least $1,000 to post their names online. He also introduced a bill that would record committee and subcommittee meetings.

Floor sessions of the House of Delegates and the state Senate are broadcast, but bills often are dispatched by “voice vote” in committee and subcommittee, making it difficult for residents to determine how legislators cast their votes on different bills.

So what hang-ups did other lawmakers have with Mr. Surovell’s legislation?

“Well, if I had recorded committee meetings I could tell you,” he said.

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