West Virginia must rise above corruption

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — News that West Virginia has dropped from a D-plus to a D grade in the State Integrity Investigation conducted by the Center for Public Integrity is certainly not a positive, for the Mountain State. But it is helpful to note that no state scored higher than a D-plus; and 11 received failing grades.

On a table labeled “Assessing the systems in place to deter corruption in state government,” West Virginia got marks on areas ranging from public access to information, to state pension fund management. In fact, the state received a B-plus for pension fund management, a factor which may have contributed to its rising several spots to 17th in the nation, according to the investigation’s rankings.

Meanwhile, West Virginia received Fs in four categories: public access to information, political financing, electoral oversight and judicial accountability.

The Center for Public Integrity attributes part of the Mountain State’s drop in grade level to the decision by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant not to “press what is an unwinnable position,” in her words, after a settlement in a lawsuit that arguing campaign contribution limits were unconstitutional.

“Tennant’s decision unleashed a torrent of spending that transformed the state’s politics and undermined what had been relatively muscular campaign finance laws,” the Center for Public Integrity said.

Weak open records laws, against which we must all continue to fight, combined with the political/financial reality that swept across West Virginia last year to knock the state down a peg in the assessment. And, while it is tempting to note that dropping to a D did not stop the state from rising in the ranks – which must mean, hey, everyone else is doing it – lawmakers must not fall into such a trap.

Alaska, with a C; California, with a C-minus; and Connecticut, with a C-minus were the highest ranking states. That means, it is possible to do much better than we are, but in doing so, we will clearly be fighting against a mindset that has swallowed the whole country. West Virginia must rise above.

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