When nearly $170,000 slowly disappeared from then-Gov. Douglas Wilder's campaign account during much of the 1990s, no one noticed for years, ethics advocates say, because of Virginia's limited oversight of political fundraising.
That relaxed approach is indicative of a hodgepodge of ethics laws that, although occasionally reformed, still exists and prompted a consortium of nonprofit organizations on Monday to list Virginia as one of the states most prone to public corruption. The group also named Maryland as one of the dozen most at-risk states.
In a scathing report, the consortium -- led by the Center for Public Integrity and joined by Global Integrity and Public Radio International -- rated Virginia as the fourth-worst state for risk of malfeasance by public officials. Maryland ranked 11th.
|Best and worst|
|A group of nonprofit organizations said Maryland and Virginia are at high risk for public corruption. Here's a look at how some other states also stacked up in the race to have the most safeguards in place (D.C. was not ranked). The study did not rate states on the conduct of their leaders.|
|1. New Jersey|
|49. South Dakota|
Researchers scored each state in 14 categories, including the public's ease of access to information, campaign finance practices and accountability of public officials.
Virginia, which has frequently styled itself as a paragon of good governance, earned "F" grades in nine categories on its way to an overall flunking mark, one of eight the consortium handed out.
"The few ethics and disclosure requirements that do exist tend to be flawed, limited or fraught with exemptions and qualifications," the report said.
Jeff Caldwell, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's spokesman, said officials were reviewing the study.
"If there are areas in which Virginia can improve, the governor wants to know what they are," Caldwell said.
The report also claimed that Maryland is loaded with ethical landmines, too.
"Procurement policies are Byzantine, auditing results are often ignored," the report said of Maryland. "Access to information is poor and the resulting executive and legislative branch accountability leaves much to be desired."
Takirra Winfield, a spokeswoman for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, blasted the report.
"We disagree with the report's findings and their flawed methodology," Winfield said. "We would like to see the evidence that their findings were based on as there were several areas where the report was outright wrong."
Winfield specifically criticized the group for its findings about the state's budget and redistricting processes.
The District was not included in the study.