The States With Anti-Corruption Measures for Public officials (S.W.A.M.P.) Index is a comparative scorecard which rates 50 States and the District of Columbia based on the laws and regulations governing ethics and transparency in the executive and legislative branches.
The States With Anti-Corruption Measures for Public officials [S.W.A.M.P.] Index analyzes the laws of the 50 States and District of Columbia regarding the establishment and scope of ethics agencies, the powers of those agencies, acceptance and disclosure of gifts by public officials, transparency of funding independent expenditures and client disclosure by legislators. It is an objective analysis, based on current state laws and regulations governing ethics and transparency in the executive and legislative branches.
The index uses a scale of 0 to 100, where 100 is a perfect score.
The S.W.A.M.P. Index Scores
There is wide variation in state laws and regulations governing ethics and transparency in the executive and legislative branches. The full report includes our detailed findings on individual questions. Below is a brief distillation of some of our major findings.
No state has achieved a perfect score and in fact there is no state in the top 20th percentile.
36 states scored 60 percent or below and 21 states scored 50 percent or below.
Three states, Washington (78%), Rhode Island (75%), and California (75%), land at the top of the score chart.
It is notable that North Dakota scores 0. While the score is disappointing, a measure to change the North Dakota Constitution to create an independent ethics commission was approved for the November 2018 ballot. It is crucial that if or when the Independent Ethics Commission is created, it has wide powers to investigate, hold public hearings, sanction personnel and issue fines.
Washington State, which scored 78%, has an Executive Ethics Board and a Legislative Ethics Board, both of which have the authority to independently investigate, hold public hearings, and issue reprimands and fines. The state also has strong gift rules which prohibit elected and appointed executive branch officials and legislators from accepting more than $50 worth of gifts, in aggregate, in a calendar year or a single gift from multiple sources.
The 2018 S.W.A.M.P. Index highlights the loopholes and weaknesses that are rampant in ethics and transparency laws at the state level. We need to demand accountability and a commitment from our public officials to improve the legal framework going forward.
Given that no state received a perfect score there is certainly room for improvement in each state. To strengthen anti-corruption measures states should ensure their laws meet the following standards:
All states should have an independent ethics agency with jurisdiction over the executive and legislative branches.
A toothless ethics agency serves no purpose. Whether there are one or two agencies with jurisdiction over all elected officials and civil servants, the agency needs wide powers to investigate and sanction all government personnel.
Proceedings of the ethics agency should be open to the public once there is a determination that probable cause exists that a violation has occurred.
For ethics and transparency issues, legislators should be subject to the same treatment as elected executive branch officials and employees. In states where legislatures have a separate ethics entity, it should be composed of members of the public and not legislators.
In all cases, the ethics agency members should be statutorily protected from removal without cause.
Gift rules should apply equally to all government officials and should prohibit all gifts above a reasonable threshold, regardless of the source and regardless of the intent of the recipient or the gift-giver.
Reporting all gifts above a reasonable threshold should also apply equally to all government officials.
Legislators should disclose the names of all clients for whom they work, whether the client directly hires the legislator or hires the entity which employs the legislator.
States should take the lead in mandating disclosure of the beneficial owners of LLCs and donors to 501(c) organizations which contribute to independent spenders.
The scoring rubric serves as the answer key to the scoring chart, matching index scores to succinct descriptions of full credit, partial credit, and no credit answers to the research questions (and the corresponding scoring chart keywords). NB: this document must be read side-by-side with our scoring chart.
This index scoring chart contains keyword answers to the research questions, and computes each state's index score question by question. NB: the Scoring Chart must be read side-by-side with the Scoring Rubric.