Politics is a swamp, but California and Washington get high marks for their ethics enforcers


The Sacramento Bee/ Andrew Sheeler

California’s state ethics agency is among the most transparent in the nation, while Washington’s agencies has mixed reviews.

The Coalition for Integrity, a nonprofit and nonpartisan political watchdog, on Thursday released its annual S.W.A.M.P. index, this year rating states by the transparency of their ethics agencies. The catchy acronym stands for States With Anti-Corruption Measures for Public officials.

The report is a followup to the 2018 report, which ranked states by the scope and independence of their ethics agencies, including enforcement power. Both California and Washington scored highly in that regard.

The report, which excluded states that either have no agency (such as Idaho) or have an agency with no enforcement power (such as Virginia), measured states using six different metrics from a three-year period beginning in 2016:

  • How many complaints were filed?
  • How many complaints were dismissed?
  • How many cases were resolved with a finding of no ethics violation?
  • How many cases were resolved with a finding of an ethics violations?
  • What sanction was adopted?
  • Are the decisions publicly available?

In the 2019 report, California ranked third in the nation, scoring 93 out of 100 points. The Golden State fell behind Colorado, Florida, Minnesota and Rhode Island, which tied for first, and Massachusetts and West Virginia, which tied for second.

From 2016 to 2018, California’s Fair Political Practices Commission received 756 ethics complaints, dismissed 553 ethics complaints and issued 911 ethics violation findings. Those violations were met with punishments ranging from a warning letter to fines of up to $21,000.

Washington state earned mixed marks from the CPI, putting it tied for sixth in the nation overall.

The Evergreen State has two ethics agencies, the Washington State Executive Ethics Board and the Washington State Legislative Ethics Board.

While the executive ethics board scored 83 out of 100 points, the legislative ethics board scored a mere 50 out of 100, in part because it does not publish an annual report, according to CPI President Shruti Shah.

From 2016 to 2018, the executive ethics board received 236 complaints. It’s unclear how many complaints were dismissed in that period but the board issued 94 ethics violation findings. Those violations were punished with fines ranging from $250 to $50,000.

From 2016 to 2018, the legislative ethics board received 66 complaints, dismissed 58 ethics complaints and issued eight ethics violation findings. Those violations were punished with fines ranging from $100 to $5,000.