State Integrity Investigation

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A report will be released November 9 that grades the states on laws and practices that are meant to deter corruption and promote accountability and transparency. Evan Wyloge, senior reporter at the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, worked on the report for the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity and will discuss it.

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we'll see how Arizona fared in a new report on government transparency. Hear about an effort to get more women involved in politics. And how accurate are presidential candidates when referencing the U.S. Constitution? Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. A report released today grades Arizona and other states on laws and practices that are meant to deter corruption and promote accountability and transparency. Here to tell us how Arizona fared is Evan Wyloge, senior reporter at the Arizona Center For Investigative Reporting. He worked on the report for the Center For Public Integrity. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

EVAN WYLOGE: Thanks for having me on, Ted.

TED SIMONS: As far as this investigative report, what exactly -- what was looked at here?

EVAN WYLOGE: Well, there were about 250 questions that dealt with what is in law and the way that the laws are carried out with regard to best practices for accountability and transparency in state government.

TED SIMONS: So we're talking about everything from conflicts of interest to lawmakers with maybe too cozy a relationship with lobbyists, these sorts of thing?

EVAN WYLOGE: Exactly. There were 13 different categories, each one with specific questions for that topic.

TED SIMONS: Arizona ranked 22nd apparently with a D. grade. 22nd is about as close to the middle of the pack as you can get, huh?

EVAN WYLOGE: Exactly. This measurement tool is very stringent, a yardstick, if you will. There was only one state that even scored a C. I believe, maybe two states but that was the highest score that we saw among all the 50 states.

TED SIMONS: So a D. puts you in the middle. There were quite a few F.'s?

EVAN WYLOGE: 11 states that got F.'s.

TED SIMONS: Wow. Let's get to the metrics here. Public access to information is one of the things looked at. Talk to us about that.

EVAN WYLOGE: So for public access to information, Arizona scored an F. And there are parts of that that make sense and are reflective of the situation and there are other parts where it doesn't capture the nuance of the law. In Arizona, any government business is considered to be public record. So if there are e-mails, if there are text messages that deal with what's happening in government, those are intended to be public records. Some of the questions, though, asked things like is the governor's calendar in law a public record? And the answer is no so we got dinged for that. But again, because the state's law is so vague and broad, it actually is a public record.

TED SIMONS: So the vagueness of the law was factored into as well?

EVAN WYLOGE: Not exactly. And that's one of the reasons why we got a low score. So you know, we've got a broad law considered pretty strong among the state. So you know, that one again, there's some more nuance to our law in specific.

TED SIMONS: How did we do in terms of internal auditing?

EVAN WYLOGE: It's one of our strong points in Arizona and the reason for that is because it's very much not a political process. The auditor general goes through every single agency every couple of years. They cycle through and there's very little or minimal interference from any elected officials. You know, they employ accounting best practices, and it's very straightforward.

TED SIMONS: Okay we did well there. Lobbying disclosure was another one. I'm not sure we did, too well on that or did we do well?

EVAN WYLOGE: Pretty poorly on lobbying disclosure and for anybody who's paid close attention to the way that lobbying records are maintained, this probably comes as no surprise. There's very little, you might say none, when it comes to inspection of what lobbyists are reporting and you know, a couple of years back we took a hard look through that lobbying database and found hundreds of thousands of dollars reported accurately. We've doubled back on that just recently and found more inaccurate reporting, as well.

TED SIMONS: Ethics enforcement agencies was another category. How did Arizona do there?

EVAN WYLOGE: That's another one where we scored pretty weakly and for people that have watched the ethics enforcement at the legislature, you can understand why. It's a political process. You had one situation one year, you might have one outcome. The next year with different lawmakers, you might have very different outcomes with the same situation.

TED SIMONS: As far as in general, Arizona did well under what kind of ideas and scored poorly in what kind of categories?

EVAN WYLOGE: In general, well, it's tough. Another section where we did pretty well was in judicial accountability. And for people who pay attention to the state's courts, they probably understand why. We have a very, you know -- it's a process called the merit-based election process for our judges. It tries to ensure that there are highly qualified people coming in and we have a very strong ethics panel that gives advisement to judges, as well.

TED SIMONS: We've done a number of stories on this that a lot of folks don't like that particular aspect of the judiciary here and want to change it and they're constantly trying to -- the courts are constantly trying to fight that and keep the status quo.

EVAN WYLOGE: That's correct.

TED SIMONS: Time period that was included here, the Corporation Commission obviously sounds like it would fit into a number of these categories. Was that included in this report?

EVAN WYLOGE: The Corporation Commission was not looked at for this exactly but we did look at across-the-board the way that this comes back to public access to information, you know. The Corporation Commission right now is embroiled in requests to see text messages and that's an area of law that maybe some people disagree about, what exactly is a public record. And so that's really at the heart of the fight over at the Corporation Commission but it wasn't like an exact category that we looked into.

TED SIMONS: Another fight obviously regards Susan Bitter Smith, the commissioner and her lobbying activities and whether or not there is a conflict of interest there. Would that fall into some of these categories?

EVAN WYLOGE: It does yeah. And, in fact, one of the questions for the lobbying section of this report card asked about disclosures of conflicts of interest and because we might be asking for people to disclose their conflicts of interest but not going back and checking on those things as a practice, might run into these sorts of issues.

TED SIMONS: So as far as what we take from all of this, how do we look at this report, what do we see about Arizona public policy and politics coming out of this report?

EVAN WYLOGE: Well, hopefully, you know, maybe some of the lawmakers here in Arizona will take a look at it and see an opportunity to improving some of these accountability and transparency measurements. You know, there's definitely an opportunity to improve some of these things. But overall? About average.

TED SIMONS: And the report itself, do lawmakers -- who is this report intended for? Will lawmakers be presented with this? Will they come back to you guys or come back to the center, the public integrity center folks and basically say okay we're working on this or we're interested in that? Where do we go from here on this?

EVAN WYLOGE: One of the nice features they've built into this report is the ability to put your address in and click send and send a note to your lawmaker asking them to give a look at the report.

TED SIMONS: How can we find this report online?

EVAN WYLOGE: It's running a few places. We've got it on our website at the Arizona center for investigative reporting, that's azcir.org. It's also run on the Arizona republic, the capitol times, I believe the Arizona daily star and you can find it at the center for public integrity.

TED SIMONS: All right. Evan good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

EVAN WYLOGE: Thanks so much.

Evan Wyloge:Senior reporter at the Arizona Center

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