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Texas Gets a D+ in Public Integrity Study

Texas has scored a 68 out of 100, placing 27th in a national state integrity study. The state got high marks for auditing and for monitoring pension funds, but not as high for accountability of the governor and legislators.

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Texas earned a D+ for state integrity, tying with six other states for 27th place, according to a study released Monday by a group of public watchdog agencies.

Texas scored 68 percent, along with Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Montana and West Virginia. 

“This study shows it’s time to unshackle Texas’ ethics watchdog and give it some teeth,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen Texas, a watchdog group.

The national report, compiled by the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity, used local reporters in all 50 states to review the laws and practices related to transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms.

The report compared laws and practices in individual states against 330 “corruption risk indicators” and applied them to 14 categories of state government that were each graded on a 0-100 scale.

The scale was not curved, and no state received an A. Topping the list was New Jersey, with 87 percent. In a news release, the group explained that states in which corruption has been a problem tend to pass more robust accountability laws. That is how New Jersey got to the top of the ranks. The other four states to receive a B were Connecticut, Washington, California and Nebraska.

The eight states that failed were Georgia, South Dakota, Wyoming, Virginia, Maine, South Carolina, Michigan and North Dakota.

The highest marks for Texas were in the categories of auditing, in which the state tied with Mississippi for first in the nation, and in pension funding, in which Texas came in eighth. Auditing received good marks because of the Texas Internal Audit Act and the practices of the Texas State Auditor’s Office. Pension funding received strong or fair ratings in most areas, with the exceptions of weak ratings for auditing and making available to the public the asset disclosures of the top management of the state’s pension funds.

In the category of executive accountability, Texas placed 41st. A recent Texas Tribune story revealed that Gov. Rick Perry has been drawing retirement pay from the state while getting a paycheck for his work as governor. Perry is not required to declare that fact under state law, and he did not disclose it until he began his run for president. The study rated financial disclosure requirements for the executive as weak, along with laws and practices related to cronyism, nepotism, patronage and the ability of the executive to use campaign contributions for personal purposes.

Legislative accountability ranked 25th, while judicial accountability came in highest of the three branches of government, at 15th among the states.

Texas’ lowest marks were for civil services management, where the state ranked 44th. Weak ratings for asset disclosures, prevention and punishment of corruption, along with poor protection for whistleblowers, contributed to the ranking. 

Texas tied for fifth with Kentucky for the highest enforcement gap, which measures the difference between the state’s laws and what happens in practice. The larger the gap, the greater the perceived problems with enforcing the laws.

Smith said the gap is owed mostly to the structure of the Texas Ethics Commission.

“A complaint to the TEC must receive a supermajority vote of six out of the eight board members to be acted upon,” Smith said. “The TEC is in place to protect the politicians, not people.”

Despite recent partisan bickering and protracted court battles over redistricting, Texas scored a 50 percent in that category, tying for 31st place with eight other states. Texas scored well on indicators such as how informed the public was about progress of redistricting. But its scores were weak on holding public hearings and including public input in the process.

A full report card for Texas follows, along with details and references.

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Courts Criminal justice Economy Politics State government Budget Campaign finance East Texas Employee Retirement System Governor's Office Judiciary of Texas Public Information Act Redistricting Rick Perry State agencies Texas Ethics Commission Texas House of Representatives Texas Legislature Texas Senate