December 18, 2008

South Dakota..."failed miserably"

Good friend Bill Kunerth delivered the bad news, which we somehow had managed to avoid for several weeks: South Dakota has again failed miserably in a national survey conducted by the Better Government Association. One of our continuing disappointments is the fact that, in general, South Dakota politicians place little value on open government, and this fact has come home to roost in this report. South Dakota ranks dead last among all 50 states in the 2008 BGA study, which included extensive examination of five critical areas:

Freedom of Information (FOI) Laws
Whistleblower Protection Laws
Campaign Finance Laws
Open Meetings Laws
Conflict of Interest Laws

Here’s an excerpt from their report:

Overall, the BGA - Alper Integrity Index reveals that states have taken a patchwork approach towards promoting integrity which indicates a lack of the proper amount of concern regarding integrity and corruption. The BGA hopes that this study will help spark a renewed focus and debate on these issues in all the states and ultimately lead to the improvement of the laws we reviewed...

The top five states in our survey were New Jersey, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Washington and Louisiana. The bottom five states were Montana, Tennessee, Alabama, Vermont and South Dakota. The top five states tended to do well relative to their sister states across all the laws while the bottom five under-performed or failed miserably across all the laws we reviewed.

You can find all the gruesome details on-line at
BGA-Alper Integrity Index.

We don’t believe there’s widespread corruption in South Dakota government, but it would be na├»ve to think it doesn’t exist. What should alarm citizens is the fact that conditions exist that readily foster corruption and malfeasance. The BGA study was “conceived as a tool to describe the extent to which each state has protected itself against possible corruption and made its processes open and accountable to its citizens.”

South Dakota has so much about which it can be proud. Open government is not one of them. With a lot of encouragement from interested citizens, perhaps the 2009 legislature will move aggressively to turn this around. There’s no better place to start than by revisiting Senator Nancy Turbak Berry's open records bill that was scuttled by legislative leaders last year.

1 comment:

Larry Miller said...

I think it's South Dakota blogger Pat Powers who has offered up a good idea for helping to clean up campaign finance laws in the state -- by creating a "significant contributor" disclosure law. We might quibble about what constitutes a "significant contributor," but this is an idea worth pursuing.

Check it out at South Dakota War College.