Tennessee has once again topped the list of the most corrupt states in the United States, according to a new report by the Center for Public Integrity. The report, which ranks the states based on their laws and practices to deter corruption and promote accountability, gave Tennessee an F grade and a score of 49 out of 100, the lowest among the 50 states
What makes Tennessee so corrupt?
The report cites several factors that contribute to Tennessee’s high level of corruption, such as:
Weak ethics enforcement: The state’s ethics commission and registry of election finance have limited authority and resources to investigate and sanction violations of ethics and campaign finance laws. The commission can only impose civil penalties of up to $10,000, and the registry can only refer cases to the attorney general, who rarely prosecutes them
Lack of transparency: The state’s public records and open meetings laws are riddled with exemptions and loopholes that allow officials to withhold information from the public. For example, the governor’s office and the legislature are exempt from the public records law, and many state agencies charge high fees or delay responses to records requests
Influence of money and special interests: The state has lax limits on campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures, and does not require disclosure of the sources and amounts of dark money, which is money spent by groups that do not reveal their donors. The state also allows legislators to receive gifts, meals, and travel from lobbyists and other interested parties, creating potential conflicts of interest
How does corruption affect the state and its citizens?
Corruption in Tennessee has serious consequences for the state and its citizens, such as:
Wasting public funds: Corruption can lead to the misuse or misallocation of public funds, resulting in inefficiency and waste. For example, in 2014, a federal investigation found that the state’s Department of Children’s Services had spent millions of dollars on contracts with private providers that failed to deliver adequate services to vulnerable children
Eroding public trust: Corruption can undermine the public’s confidence and trust in the government and its institutions, resulting in lower civic engagement and participation. For example, in 2013, a poll found that only 28% of Tennesseans trusted the state government to do what is right, compared to 57% of Americans overall
Hurting the economy and the environment: Corruption can hamper the state’s economic and environmental performance, by discouraging investment, innovation, and competition, and by allowing the exploitation and degradation of natural resources. For example, in 2010, a coal ash spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant contaminated the Emory River and nearby land with toxic substances, causing environmental and health damages.
What can be done to reduce corruption in Tennessee?
There are several measures that can be taken to reduce corruption in Tennessee, such as:
Strengthening ethics enforcement: The state should increase the authority and resources of the ethics commission and the registry of election finance, and empower them to impose meaningful sanctions for violations of ethics and campaign finance laws. The state should also create an independent inspector general to oversee and audit the executive branch
Increasing transparency: The state should eliminate or narrow the exemptions and loopholes in the public records and open meetings laws, and ensure timely and affordable access to information for the public. The state should also require disclosure of the sources and amounts of dark money, and create a searchable online database of campaign finance and lobbying activities
Limiting money and special interests: The state should lower the limits on campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures, and ban or restrict gifts, meals, and travel from lobbyists and other interested parties to legislators. The state should also implement public financing of elections, and adopt a merit-based system of selecting judges
Tennessee is the most corrupt state in the United States, according to a new report by the Center for Public Integrity. The state suffers from weak ethics enforcement, lack of transparency, and influence of money and special interests, which affect its public funds, public trust, and economic and environmental performance. The state can reduce corruption by strengthening ethics enforcement, increasing transparency, and limiting money and special interests.