As for state’s integrity, don’t look too closely

Charlie Arlinghaus

November 11, 2015

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

When it comes to public integrity, New Hampshire is lackluster among states. According to the state rankings of the Center for Public Integrity, “New Hampshire is firmly in the lower tier,” ranked in a tie for 34th with the nominal grade of D-minus. The Center’s State Integrity Investigation found that, as in so many other areas, we aren’t who we think we are.

We think of ourselves as a small state with minimal corruption. The legend has it that our government is small and close to the people, corruption is almost unheard of because so many people involved in the public sector are friends and neighbors, and that the safeguards necessary in more cynical states are superfluous here because everything and everyone is so accessible.

Like many government myths, this one doesn’t stand up to measurement. That helps, perhaps, explain why we avoid measuring things too often.

The State Integrity Investigation didn’t rely on an activist to write a subjective rant. Rather, they developed a comprehensive set of objective measurements — 245 different questions to be scored — and hired experienced journalists in each state to conduct interviews and answer the questions. The results were then peer reviewed by another experienced journalist.

In New Hampshire, the investigation used veteran reporter Ted Siefer, formerly with the New Hampshire Union Leader and lately working with Reuters and other news outlets. Siefer spent more than two years talking to analysts and workers inside and outside government — including me among dozens of others.

The results suggest opacity rather than transparency and won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has spent any time trying to figure out what’s going on inside our government.

New Hampshire has a long tradition of those in charge thinking too much information is a bad thing and not wanting to look too closely at the details. We do generally pay lip service to the idea of public records and have a moderately strong right-to-know law. The flaw, as Siefer points out, is that there is no mechanism to appeal refusals to comply other than the high hurdle of initiating action in state court.

By tradition, New Hampshire’s political class sees no need to police themselves. The most famous incident in New Hampshire’s political history was 30 years ago when infamous House Majority Leader Vinnie Palumbo torpedoed proposed state ethics laws by insisting “gentlemen keep their own scorecards.”

The police later helped with his scorecard on corruption, and he spent a few years as a guest of the state.

The attitude, however, persists. Our campaign finance laws are routinely snickered at around the country as ridiculously archaic with the substance of Swiss cheese. Candidates for high office can avoid any reports until just a few months before the election. Exactly what has to be reported, how described, and permissible uses are the subject of much speculation and multiple interpretations.

The lack of access to information has been on display for the last year-and-a-half in fights between the legislature and executive branch over access to timely budget information. As brilliantly transparent as our tax information is, the spending side is the opposite. Charges back and forth cannot be adjudicated because not only are updates on spending compared to budget not available to the public, those secrets are closely guarded in the Legislature — for example legislative budget writers might normally be expected to have access to agency budget updates.

The new budget transparency law pushed by Sen. Jeb Bradley last session should help but only if appropriately implemented.

A dozen years ago, then-Gov. Craig Benson pushed for but did not receive a significant increase in the funds allocated to the Legislative Budget Assistant’s Audit Division. This little known corner of state government is a staff of 24 that conducts financial and performance audits of state agencies and programs.

Their recommendations often save the state millions of dollars — for example when they recommended competitive bidding of the myriad insurance policies the state buys on itself. They are the group currently charged with figuring out how exactly the state accidentally didn’t spend $20 million appropriated to eliminate the developmental disability waiting list.

Here’s an idea: The current governor might look into Gov. Benson’s old files and dust off his plan on audits. While you’re waiting for that unlikely event to occur, you would do well to read Ted Siefer’s report on state integrity. Be forewarned: It’s a little depressing.

4 replies
  1. Bill Fortune says:

    WHO GIVE’S A RATS ASS ? it’s toooooo complicated and tooo far beyond the average persons ability and time restraint to be concerned about such problems.

    How many more taxes or how much do we have to raise taxes to “fix” the problem. How many more hours does a woman have to work at her retail job to give the bureaucrats enough $$$$$$$$$$$$ to “fix” the problem ????
    Maybe Jeb Bradley could write a few thousand pages of legislation to “fix” the problem so the State can hire more lawyers; lawyers need more money !

    We estimate that about 27 % of the “adults” in the U.S. work for the Gov. , while China has only 31/1000 population. With the U.S.’s large parasitic load there is no way we can go anywhere but DOWN !
    More houses = less space for industry = fewer private sector jobs = more social programs =more taxes = more bureaucrats = more taxes = more subsidies (crony capitalism) = another Greece, another Ukraine. (you either work for the government, you are a beggar, in the Mob or work “underground” and the GOVERNMENT provides almost everything “FREE”)
    Some have asked me to run as an independent for Governor. It will not be a vote for me, but a vote for policies to break the cycle of these problems.

  2. Ginger Ferrer says:

    This article is so on the mark I cannot believe there are still some within these concerns who is actually speaking to it.

    Manchester, NH is one of most constitutionally corrupt places in NH, second comes Concord, NH and the political structure who appears to “see no evil, hear no evil, but do all evil.

    I have been a community advocate on Air at TV 23 public access for almost 14 years.
    I have spoken to all manner of violation hoping to bring attention and resolution to these concerns as in: Worker’s Compensation Fraud by employers and their insurance providers. Most especially when the employer happens to be a member of the policial structure in the State of NH at Concord and a member of the NH Bar Association.

    Insurance company: Maine Bonding and Casualty who denied a valid work related claim and imposed their fraudulent denial on the American taxapyer funded programs of disability and other allegedly humane services.

    Millions upon millions of Social Security funding looted repeatedly and seemingly endlessly. Yet no one at Concord, NH including the former Governor of NH Jeanne Shaheen, Senator Kelly Ayotte, Senator Lou D’Allesandro with whom I met at his office in Concord almost two years ago, and the then candidate for Governor, Maggie Hassan, who while campaigning at the Puaritan Restaurant’s convention center was told about these violations and concerns. I have it on video as we filmed this event. I was told to leave my name and phone number with Chris Pappas who accompanied Mrs. Hassan at this event.

    The call never came. This is just one of the many unconstitutional violations covered up and condoned by Concord and Manchester, NH’s political community. Add to this slum landlordisms that appears to be a very thriving business and the inadequate inspection processes if one can call it that fostered by alleged building inspector’s both local and federal re: subsidized housing and landlords who have been allowed to get away for decades with housing code violations of almost every description.

    The seemingly cavalier don’t give a damn attitude of Mayor Gatsas and some of the Alderman at city hall keeps many citizens of this Manchester hostage within its own community.

    No one but no one appears to want to address these concerns openly and hold accountable the numerous entities including property management companies and personnal who work within this city’s operational structure to enforce these long overdue violations and the lives it has taken in past timeframes.

    My work is on You Tube under: Ginger Ferrer – Level Your Playing Field.

    I hope you will take this reply seriously. Fraud on a grand scale and even murder has been totally ignored by this city and state government for way too long. Thank you. Ginger Ferrer.

  3. Ginger Ferrer says:

    To add another point to these concerns is the Union Leader itself. Their form of journalsim is not what true “peoples right to know” consists of. Too many long termed cronies to consider as opposed to the violated constitutional concerns that remain hidden for the most part by not reporting it altogether. They are part of the problem, and most certainly not a cure for again the perceived lack of: PEOPELS RIGHT TO KNOW”.

  4. Dan McGuire says:

    I have a few problems with their methodology. For example, they rank us a zero under “In practice, both the calendars of the governor and legislature are available to the public.” Certainly the legislature’s calendar is completely online, including ways to search for bills and hearings. The Executive Council’s calendar is also online, which is a considerable part of the Governor’s public activity.

    If you look at the overall report, there are only three states that get a C, the rest are D’s and F’s. Perhaps some of the things they advocate are not workable?

Comments are closed.