Maine Government Gets an F for Transparency
Maine earned an F in a recent review of states’ transparency and accountability practices conducted by the Center for Public Integrity. With a numerical score of 56, Maine tied for 42nd among the 50 states.
Maine received its lowest scores in the areas of ethics enforcement, electoral oversight, and public access to information. According to the report, the loopholes in the state’s Freedom of Information Act, upon which investigative reporters heavily rely, have become glaring. For example, after receiving a request from the Sun Journal, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention destroyed documents regarding the state’s decision-making process in allocating grants, but the law was too vague to support litigation. Maine’s open government legislation also gives public officials discretion to determine “reasonable” response times, sometimes leading to long delays on controversial requests.
The review also noted that the Maine Ethics Commission has jurisdiction only over legislative affairs, and that the judicial and executive branches lack strong independent oversight. As a result, ethics disputes – as was evident in the Good Will-Hinckley controversy – are left up to politicians and the media instead of being authoritatively adjudicated by a specific agency.
Campaign finance details and political favors often fall through the cracks of Maine’s election laws. For instance, there were no public disclosures when 22 Maine legislators ate dinner and spent the night at an event hosted by Time Warner to discuss Internet speeds. Despite the luxurious setting of the coastal resort and the exotic menu items, Maine law doesn’t require elected officials to disclose “gifts” valued under $300.
Calls for increased transparency have led to improvements in recent years, according to the report. In 2013, a law was passed prohibiting former legislators from lobbying executive and legislative officials for one year after leaving office. And funds have been appropriated to make financial disclosure information more accessible to the public.