If I were to ask you to name the most corrupt state, you’d probably answer “New Jersey,” right? Fuggettaboutit!
After spending months looking into how state governments fare fighting public corruption through transparency and accountability, the State Integrity Investigation found that Delaware fared much worse that Tony Soprano and the Garden State.
While New Jersey earned the top overall rank, a “B+”, little Delaware earned a “C-” I didn’t see any stories about Trenton officials bribing investigators yet, so I assume the grades are legit.
But how can you explain it? After all, if you’ve ever eaten at Arner’s Restaurant in Elsmere chances are you’ve bumped into Tom Carper having breakfast. Maybe you’ve spent five minutes gabbing with Joe Biden at the Fourth of July parade in Dover. Or maybe you ran into Governor Jack Markell at a local Tweet-up. This is Delaware, after all, where our politicians are accessible and out in the public.
Well, according to the investigation, our politicians are accessible – to lobbyists. Not only are these influence-peddlers granted wide latitude by the same lawmakers they wine and dine with, many are former politicians themselves, whisked into lobbying through a spinning revolving door greased by lax oversight rules that no one in Dover seems to want to slow down.
Then there’s the state’s Public Integrity Commission, charged with enforcing ethics rules in Delaware. With a budget of $30,600 and a skeleton crew of two people, it’s not even able to audit disclosure forms from candidates or investigate improprieties, much less anything else.
Compare that to New Jersey’s State Commission of Investigation (SCI), with its $4.5 million budget and staff of 53. For over 40 years, the SCI has saved New Jersey millions of dollars and completed hundreds of investigations that found waste of tax dollars, exposed corruption and enforced ethics rules.
In fact, it’s New Jersey’s long history of public shenanigans that led to recent changes strengthening its ethics laws and lowering the risk of public corruption.
It’s not all gloom and doom for us here in the First State. Two years ago, The Daily Beast crunched the numbers on everything from public embezzlement to private sector fraud, and Delaware came out as the 4th worst state in the country.
So we’re moving in a positive direction. Unfortunately, that move towards the sunlight of open government has been less of a sprint, and more of a crawl.
Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.