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Have you ever wondered about the personal finances of your lawmakers and how that relates to what they stand for in government? A Washington D.C.-based investigative news organization has rated Missouri 19 out of all 50 states on how much information Missouri lawmakers shared about their personal finances. KSMU’s Kristian Kriner reports on why one organization believes Americans should keep a close eye on this type of information.
The Center for Public Integrity is a non-profit, non-partisan investigative journalism organization that reports on how honest politicians are with the public.
In 1999, this organization started grading each state on its financial disclosure laws.
That included looking at how much information lawmakers are required to share when it comes to their personal finances.
Bill Buzenberg is the executive director for the Center for Public Integrity.
“What we do is we have a 43 question guide that we look at the laws in each state. And we find out from the laws in each state and we grade the states, and see how they are doing as far as openness and transparency of the potential conflicts of interest that the members of the state legislature have,” Buzenberg said.
He says Missouri was ranked 19th, alongside Oregon and Kentucky.
Buzenberg says Missouri received a ‘C’, so while that’s not a failing grade, he says there’s still room for improvement.
“Disclosure filings should be available electronically or on the web in all kinds of formats, so you could look at it and that’s not the case in Missouri. We think we graded Missouri down for some other things involving the investment of a spouse. It’s not specifically clear when the investment is owned by a spouse or not,” Buzenberg said.
He says 20 states failed the questionnaire, but many others have changed their ethics laws in previous years as a result of the testing.
Buzenberg says it’s important for the public to know how the legislators they elect make and spend their personal dollars.
“It’s important to know the background and the outside interests. Almost every state legislator has other businesses. They earn their money in various ways and if there are conflicts of interest with what they are purposing or the laws they are voting on or the committees they run in the state legislature. I think it’s important for the public and their fellow lawmakers to know that,” Buzenberg said.
He says he gives Missouri legislative credit on its progress so far, and he adds that the state now appears to be well on its way to getting an ‘A’.
For KSMU News, I’m Kristian Kriner.