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Minnesota gets D+ corruptibility grade, says State Integrity Investigation

Minnesota is in the middle of the pack when it comes to the potential for government corruption, according to a new study by the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International, and Global Integrity.

The study, called the State Integrity Investigation, gave Minnesota a D+ grade, which ranked 25th out of the 50 states. New Jersey got the best grade, Georgia the worst. To see the full rankings, click here.

Areas of particular concern for Minnesota included a lack of legislative openness, weak campaign finance oversight, underfunded government watchdog organizations, and inadequate consequences for ethics violations in the legislature.

In a detailed summary of the study as it pertains to Minnesota, Ahndi Fridell writes that last summer's government shutdown illustrated how the state's legislative process sometimes lacks transparency. Regarding the budget agreements that ended the shutdown, she writes:

In one news story after the budget deal concluded, Minnesota Public Radio's Madeleine Baran reported, "Advocates for the disabled were surprised to find new policies for group homes included in the state budget bill passed last week -- policies they said were never publicly discussed or debated by lawmakers, state officials, or the governor." Reporters, legislators, advocates and critics point to this end-of-session, closed-door negotiation practice as a major flaw in state government accountability.

Fridell cites the MNGOP's debt boondoggle as an example of how state campaign finance laws lack oversight, and notes that Minnesota received an "F" grade in 2009 from the Center for Public Integrity when it comes to scrutinizing state legislators' financial disclosure statements.

Regarding the state's ethics law, Fridell writes:

While the state has had a fairly strict ethics law regarding gifts since 1994, there is no enforcement agency and no fines for violating the laws. Statute 10A.071, , otherwise known as the "Gift Ban", prohibits state workers, including legislators and judges, from accepting gifts, including food or beverages except in limited circumstances. There are no penalties, however, in the statute for violating this law.

Another concern, Fridell notes, is that the state's election process for judges has become more political and attracted more cash over the last decade, raising the specter of Minnesota judges receiving campaign contributions for their rulings.

But in the end, Minnesota doesn't have a history of big-time scandal, meaning the state's poor grade reflects the potential for corruption more than actual corruption. As Fridell concludes, "the state's citizens will have to decide how willing they are to trust their public officials and institutions to maintain the state's culture of anti-corruption." Are our elected officials trustworthy?


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