Report: Risk for Corruption High in South Central States

By Stephanie K. Jones | April 11, 2012

Although none of the 50 U.S. state governments were found to be exemplary, three out of four of the South Central states received very lackluster rankings in a report evaluating state governments on integrity and the ability to prevent corruption among the ranks of state officials and employees.

Among insurance departments in the South Central states, only one — Louisiana — received a decent grade. The Louisiana Department of Insurance received a ranking of B+, 89 percent, on the “State Integrity Investigation Corruption Risk Report Card,” conducted and recently released by a partnership between the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International.

Of the remaining South Central states, the Texas Department of Insurance (F, 58 percent) came in dead last, with the Arkansas Insurance Department (D-, 60 percent) and the Oklahoma Insurance Department (D-, 61 percent) trailing close behind.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said he is pleased but not surprised with the high ranking given to the Louisiana Department of Insurance (LDI).

Donelon noted that while the state of Louisiana has a checkered political history, the LDI has had a long and exemplary track record of balancing the needs of consumers with those of the insurance industry.

“Our mandate is to enforce the insurance laws and regulations of Louisiana impartially, honestly and expeditiously with the highest ethical and professional standards,” Donelon in an email message.

“We do this on a daily basis while protecting the consumers of the insurance products we regulate, and quite frankly, it isn’t that hard to do when your employees are committed to operating one of the best insurance regulatory agencies in the country,” Donelon added.

The various state insurance regulatory commissions were judged on a series of questions. The following table shows the results for insurance departments in the South Central states:

Question Arkansas Louisiana Oklahoma Texas
Is the state insurance commission protected from political and special interest influence? 37% 93% 75% 31%
Does the state insurance commission have sufficient capacity to carry out its mandate? 100% 100% 85% 100%
Are there conflicts of interest regulations covering members of the board and senior staff of the state insurance commission? 100% 100% 66% 100%
Are theconflicts of interest regulations covering members of the board and senior staff of the state insurance commission effective? 25% 75% 37% 12%
Can citizens access the asset disclosure records of the state insurance commission? 66% 75% 58% 58%
Does the state insurance commission publicly disclose documents filed by insurance companies? 31% 87% 43% 43%

The report also judged states as a whole, as well as breaking down the rankings to include assessments of the most important individual state agencies.

Arkansas ranked 27 among 50 states with an overall grade of D+, 68 percent. Of Arkansas, the report said: “Despite a handful of recent reforms, Arkansas is plagued by weak ethics laws that often are poorly enforced.”

Louisiana’s overall rank among 50 states was 15 with a grade of C, 72 percent. The report noted that Louisiana, a “state with a colorful history of corruption has tried to clean up its act. But despite a series of new laws, oversight issues remain.”

Oklahoma’s overall grade was D, 64 percent with a rank of 38 among 50 states. “Exemptions to the open records law and lax ethics enforcement are among the issues that earn Oklahoma a low grade on the State Integrity Index,” the report said.

Texas also received an overall grade of D+, 68 percent, with a rank of 27 among 50 states. “Money flows freely in Texas politics, where contributions to most candidates are unlimited and lobbyists are powerful,” the report explained.

Of all the states, New Jersey fared the best in terms of overall integrity performance, with a grade of B+, 87 percent. Georgia came in last on the integrity scale, with a grade of F, 49 percent. Georgia’s insurance department received a failing grade of F, 32 percent. New Jersey’s insurance commission received a grade of B+, 88 percent.

The State Integrity Investigation Corruption Risk Report Card can be found here.

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