NJ Fiscal Folly

Friday, April 21, 2006

Legislators' Financial Disclosure

The Center For Public Integrity, a journalism organization based in Washington, DC, has just released state rankings for financial disclosure by state legislators. New Jersey received a grade of C, but ranked 10th out of 47 states that require legislators to provide such disclosure.

As described in the CPI press release, "a 43-question survey measured public access to information essential to monitoring whether legislators stand to gain financially from actions they take in office. It graded states on how much they disclose about legislators' employment, personal business activities, clients, investments, real property holdings and leadership positions in organizations. It also studied disclosure statements' accessibility, disclosure law enforcement and rules defining who must file disclosure forms and how often. Survey answers were assigned a numerical value adding up to a possible 100 points; high scores acknowledged high levels of disclosure, public access and accountability."

New Jersey scored 76 points out of 100. The highest ranked state, Washington, scored 93.5 points. According to CPI, NJ did fairly well in some categories, but lost 20 points for insufficient details in the legislators' filings.

If anything, the CPI rating seems generous. If you go to the actual NJ legislator filings, you'll see that the financial data and other details provided are pretty sparse. For example, look at the filings by Wayne Bryant or Sharpe James. Furthermore, the information is not very current.

Nevertheless, the CPI rating is useful. Like the state tax rankings by The Tax Foundation, the CPI financial disclosure rankings provide an outside assessment of a NJ weakness that's hard to discredit or ignore.

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