Maryland Scores a D; Ranks 23rd out of 50 States For Transparency

A November 9, 2015, Center for Public Integrity article  reported  the Maryland had an aggregate score of 64% or a D grade as part of the Center’s 2015 State Integrity Investigation. However, the score still ranked Maryland as 23rd out of the 50 states for transparency and actually improved over the State’s previous 61%/D- ranking from the 2012 assessment. The article noted that procurement and transparency issues with Maryland’s troubled health care insurance exchange highlighted some “recurring themes” that contributed to the State’s 2015 grade.  From the article:

Maryland’s worst score this year was a 34, for access to public information, which placed it 41st. Its worst ranking, 49th, came with a score of 55 for internal auditing, partly because state agencies do not conduct real audits that go behind the data to examine supporting documents. While workers at many agencies don’t view auditing as part of their jobs, auditors with the legislative branch could use more help.

“To me, the most important thing is that over the course of the last three years or so, things have not gotten better,” said Todd Eberly, an associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College in St. Mary’s City. He said Maryland’s stagnating position in the ratings “is not a good thing. We want to see more openness, we want to see accountability and we want to see transparency.”

The article highlighted several positive trends, including high scores in lobbying oversight, judge accountability, and electoral oversight, ranking Maryland among the top 10 states. The article also noted that major Public Information Act reform legislation (HB 755/SB 695) passed by General Assembly during the 2015 Session could help once fully funded.

The new law, effective Oct. 1, established a compliance review board and an ombudsman to mediate disputes. It also requires state agencies to designate a contact person for public information requests. …

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, said the new law should help, at least a bit. “There is some possibility that the law, once implemented, will have a favorable impact, but it will not catapult us to the top,” he said.

The article alleged a major cause of Maryland’s low score was outdated technology and lack of information verification:

One reason the state’s overall score has remained stagnant is a lack of updated technology or an unwillingness to apply modern methods to the technology it has. Maryland, for instance, is the only state that still forces the public to travel to Annapolis, the state capital, to look up financial disclosure forms of officials and lawmakers, all of which remain paper records. And anyone whose forms are examined can ask the state ethics office about who is doing the looking.

With many parts of Maryland government struggling to get into the digital age, two areas — lobbying data, which is available online, and Maryland’s campaign finance database — offer relatively user-friendly systems.

But while the data is there, its reliability is uncertain. Reports are scanned only for completeness and are rarely formally audited or investigated. The Maryland state prosecutor, the state office that most often handles allegations of violations of campaign finance laws and lobbying regulations, reports that much of its work is complaint driven. The small staff rarely is in a position to initiate a campaign finance probe without prompting from other sources.

The article also argued that both the current Larry Hogan Administration and the previous Martin O’Malley Administration have sent “mixed messages” on transparency.