A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky ranks 4th in U.S. with strong ethics laws by Coalition for Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog

Kentucky’s ethics laws are the fourth-strongest in the nation, according to an independent survey of anti-corruption laws in all 50 states. The laws have guided members of the General Assembly since 1993, and during that time, while hundreds of state legislators across the nation have been convicted of public corruption charges, not one Kentucky legislator has been convicted of misusing his or her legislative office.

The Coalition for Integrity (CFI), a non-partisan corruption watchdog, released its States With Anti-Corruption Measures for Public officials (S.W.A.M.P.) Index, and awarded Kentucky 74%, close behind the states of Washington (78%), Rhode Island (75%) and California (75%).

CFI assessed the laws of every state and the District of Columbia related to the scope, independence, and powers of ethics agencies, as well as analyzing laws relating to the acceptance and disclosure of gifts by public officials, and client disclosures by legislators. The index uses a scale of 0 to 100, where 100 is a perfect score.

Kentucky scored particularly well on the S.W.A.M.P. Index because the state has ethics commissions in the legislative and executive branches with subpoena and sanction power, and commission members who are shielded from removal without cause.

The Kentucky ethics agencies have the authority to investigate, hold hearings, issue reprimands, and impose fines. The state also has strong gift rules that prohibit legislators from accepting anything of value from lobbyists or employers of lobbyists and elected and appointed officials in the executive branch from taking more than $25 in gifts in a calendar year from people or businesses that interact with state government.

The CFI study focused on the text of each state’s laws, rather than on the impressions of journalists or experts, and it didn’t address questions of funding of ethics agencies.

“The index is not based on perceptions, but is an objective analysis based on current state laws and regulations governing ethics and transparency,” said Laurie Sherman, a CFI policy adviser.

In two states that scored very poorly on the S.W.A.M.P. Index, New Mexico (36) and North Dakota (0), voters approved ballot initiatives in the November election to create independent ethics agencies. In New Mexico, 75% of voters supported the initiative, and in North Dakota, 54% supported creating an independent commission.

The report, rankings, scoring chart, and the methodology are available at this website.

Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission

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