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Monday, May 11, 2009

South Dakota sucks the bottom on integrity

South Dakota rated absolutely last in a government integrity index compiled for the Better Government Association. This is the second time South Dakota has ranked last among the 50 states in the Association's study of how well state governments served their constituencies. The last study was made in 2002.

The ranking is derived from a comparative study of five areas of state law:

  • open records
  • whistleblower protection
  • campaign finance
  • open meetings
  • conflict of interest
South Dakota also came in absolute last in a study of Freedom of Information access provided by state laws and procedures. The Association gave 38 states a failing grade, but South Dakota and Alabama received zero scores because they have no provisions for Freedom of Information access.

The integrity study was issued last October, and although it was widely referred in citizen efforts to obtain a new open meetings laws for South Dakota before and during the legislative session, it was not reported in the news until today.

One of the blogs
which specializes in partisan malice and false, defamatory information tries to connect the rating to the state's ethics code, and not the five areas of statutory law listed above, providing an illustration of the state's integrity problems.

In the study's news release, Jeff Stewart, executive director of the BGA, says.

South Dakota ranked 50th among all fifty states overall. By issue area South Dakota ranked 49th in open records laws; 46th in whistleblower laws; 34th in campaign finance laws; 46th in open meetings laws; and 27th in conflict of interest laws. With its number 50 overall ranking, South Dakota achieved a modest 32% overall score.

“South Dakota didn’t beat out any other state” said Stewart, “and there is clearly a lot of room for improvement. If you look at the percentage score, South Dakota received 32%, the equivalent of a F letter grade, hardly a cause for celebration.”

He further states:

"We hope that legislators and leaders in South Dakota will use the Integrity Index as a tool to spur reform and upgrade their laws in regard to transparency, accountability and limits. Better yet, we hope South Dakota comes up with a tough new standard that then becomes the measure against which other states will be judged” said Stewart.

Although the state passed a more liberal open meetings and open records law this past session, it still provides dodges for government officials to withhold and hide information.

The Better Government Association was founded to help combat organized crime's influence on government during the Capone era in Chicago. An account of its work can be found here.

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