Global Integrity, a non-profit that tracks governance and corruption trends in countries throughout the world, has released its latest annual Global Integrity Report. (Full disclosure: I worked for Global Integrity before joining POGO, which provided advice and assistance during the research phase of this year’s report.)
The 2009 Global Integrity Report analyzed 35 countries including the United States. The big finding regarding the U.S. is that, despite a change in Presidential administration, there has been very little change in steps being taken to curb corruption at the national level in regard to the influence of special-interest money in politics.
“Despite having many world-class anti-corruption safeguards in place, such as a robust and independent media and civil society organizations,” reports Global Integrity, “the United States continues to struggle with controlling the corrupting influence of money in politics.” The White House commented on Global Integrity’s findings today in The Hill.
While the report notes the positive steps President Obama has taken to improve transparency and accountability, such as a commitment to better implementation of the Freedom of Information Act and improved public access to government data via the Open Government Directive, the continued failure to strengthen campaign finance controls will act as a “glass ceiling” preventing the U.S. from leaving the B-grade “Strong” performance tier in which it has been stuck since Global Integrity started conducting these assessments and entering the rarified air of the A-grade “Very Strong” tier. (Then again, none of the 100-plus countries Global Integrity has analyzed since 2004 has ever reached the “Very Strong” tier, so consistently finishing among the silver medalists is not exactly a dishonor.)
Last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision loosening restrictions on corporate and union spending in elections will make this task even more challenging. In addition, the report also found improvements are needed in such areas as whistleblower protections and funding inspectors general offices — two areas of particular interest to POGO. But the U.S.’s relatively high score for the strength of its civil society organizations means that watchdog groups like POGO will continue to play a role in making sure these improvements happen.
-- Neil Gordon