Sunday, July 22, 2007

Maine fails disclosure test
The state loses points for not requiring the governor to report property and links to businesses.
By SUSAN M. COVER Blethen Maine News Service © Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. :ap -->July 21, 2007 AUGUSTA — Maine and 20 other states got a failing grade on a recent survey of what governors are required to disclose about their financial holdings and how easy it is for the public to get access to it.
The Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C., nonpartisan government watchdog, released a report Thursday that takes a critical look at what kinds of information states require their chief executives to report.
Such disclosure is critical to good government, the center said, because "governors sign legislation into law, recommend and approve state budgets, and have wide-ranging powers to appoint department and agency heads and fill board and commission positions."
The report's lead author, Leah Rush, said it is part of the center's efforts to make sure ethics laws are useful to the public.
"Citizens should have all the information that goes into making a decision," she said in a phone interview.
Four states – Idaho, Michigan, Utah and Vermont – do not require their governors to file any disclosure reports, according to the center.
Washington was the only state to get an "A" grade.
And while Maine got an "F" for achieving a score of 44 out of 100, it does require governors – and 150 state executive officials – to report sources of income of more than $1,000, gifts, immediate family income and the sale of goods or services to any state agency.
Maine lost points because governors are not required to disclose real property information or whether they are officers or directors of businesses. Also, the disclosure information about what investments or earnings belong to a spouse are not defined clearly, Rush said.
Maine also did not do well in the category of public access, because the completed forms are unavailable on the Internet and because copy fees may exceed 50 cents per page.
The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices does not administer the gubernatorial disclosure system. That responsibility lies with the Secretary of State's Office.
Don Cookson, spokesman for Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, said Maine's reporting requirements provide the basic information necessary so citizens can tell whether there's a conflict of interest.
Also, Maine's forms are designed to be simple so the officials can fill them out themselves, he said.
"It shows any scenario where undue influence may be a concern," he said.
The report filed by Gov. John Baldacci in April is mostly blank. The only two items listed on his form indicate he makes more than $1,000 from renting out a Hilton Grand Timeshare and on interest income from the Congressional Federal Credit Union.
Rush said though some of the categories in the center survey ask for specific details that may seem trivial, the point is to make the information as clear and user-friendly as possible.
"Part of the goal is to put ethics laws to practice," she said.

No comments: