LOS ANGELES — New Jersey is the least corrupt state in America, a new report by the Center for Public Integrity released Monday has found.
According to the State Integrity Investigation, which graded all 50 states on accountability and corruption, the United States isn't doing too well in terms of running honest governments. Not a single state was awarded an A grade, and only five got a B: New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California and Nebraska, Slate Magazine reported.
Nineteen states received C grades, eighteen had D's, and most shockingly, eight failed: Michigan, North Dakota, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia, according to Slate.
New Jersey got the highest score with a B+.
"I'm still in shock," New Jersey's senate majority leader, Democrat Lorretta Weinberg, told the Integrity Investigation. “If we’re number one, I feel bad for the rest of the states.”
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While New Jersey’s rating may seem counterintuitive — Weinberg told the Center that she'd served with three state senators who either are in prison or were recently released from jail — the report is not a test of the ethical strength of politicians, but rather the structure that governs the government, such as the laws on the books and the actions that enforce those laws, according to the Integrity Investigation.
New Jersey's imprisonment of state employees shows that its laws are strong and rigorously enforced, according to the report, and New Jersey and Louisiana (which also did relatively well in the report despite a reputation for political scandal) both boast some of the country's toughest ethics laws, Slate reported.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Georgia, which ranked last in the survey, ABC News reported. From 2007 to 2008, over 650 Georgia officials “accepted sports tickets, speaking fees, fancy meals and other gratuities,” according to the study, but despite having extensive laws in place to prevent such donations, the state has not fined a vendor for failing to disclose such gifts in 10 years.
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The 18-month State Integrity project, conducted by the Center in conjunction with Global Integrity and Public Radio International, is the most comprehensive study of state laws and practices that encourage openness and fight corruption, the study's investigators told Reuters.
The Washington-based non profit analyzed 16,000 data points related to state's public ethics laws, and hired reporters to support its findings with “more than 100,000 words” of anecdotal journalism, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
“The risk of corruption remains high in every state capital, but the way we look at it, a scandal that gets exposed and prosecuted may be a sign that things are working right,” Nathaniel Heller, executive director of Global Integrity, told Bloomberg.