A national survey of state enforcement of state ethics laws released Thursday ranked West Virginia among the top five states.
Conducted by the Coalition for Integrity, a Washington-based nonprofit, the report, “Enforcement of State Ethics Rules by State Ethics Agencies,” ranked the West Virginia Ethics Commission tied for fifth with its counterpart in Massachusetts.
Both trailed ethics agencies in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota and Rhode Island, which received perfect 100 scores.
In the text of the report, it cites the West Virginia Ethics Commission as an example of best practices, noting:
“It has authority to impose a variety of sanctions, ranging from a public reprimand, cease-and-desist orders and fines of up to $5,000 per violation. It can also recommend to the appropriate authority termination of employment or removal from office, though it did not do so in the 2016-2018 period.
“The Commission’s enforcement efforts are transparent. It publishes an annual report in a timely fashion which describes these efforts in detail, including the sanctions imposed, and makes its decisions available on its website.”
The study found “tremendous variation” in enforcement powers and transparency among state ethics agencies, finding that five states — Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, North Dakota and Wyoming — have no independent ethics agency, while seven states have ethics agencies with limited to no investigative or sanctioning authority.
“A toothless ethics agency serves no purpose. Agencies need wide powers to investigate and sanction all government personnel,” the report states.
Likewise, reporting requirements of ethics investigations vary widely, the report found.
A total of 18 agencies do not make ethics decisions or sanctions available to the public, while 31 ethics agencies do not publish annual reports summarizing enforcement actions.
The West Virginia Ethics Commission does both.
Ethics Commission executive director Rebecca Stepto, in a statement, said the commission was pleased to be recognized for its enforcement and transparency efforts.
”The West Virginia Ethics Commission is pleased that the Coalition for Integrity’s report recognizes its enforcement actions and the transparency of those actions,” she said. “The Commission strives to provide the public with information concerning complaints and their disposition on its website and in its annual reports in a timely manner.
In the past, the coalition has been criticized for accepting donations from major multinational corporations, seemingly at odds with one of its functions, to promote private sector integrity.