Massachusetts Government Needs More Transparency on Financial Conflicts Of Interest
The Pioneer Institute recently released a new index rating the transparency and accessibility of each state’s Statements of Financial Interest. SFIs are disclosures used to determine if elected officials and policymakers have potential conflicts of interest.
Pioneer’s new index finds that, among states with procedures for reporting SFIs, Massachusetts has the lowest raw score (15 on a scale of 100). Ironically, states that commonly rank among the most politically corrupt in the country – like Illinois, Louisiana, and New York – have index scores of 90 or higher.
Pioneer’s rating is based on 7 underlying criteria: whether the SFIs are available online, whether the form is electronically searchable, whether the reports are free for the public to access, whether personal information is required for access, whether an ID is required for access, whether the SFI filer is notified of each record request, and whether the filer must submit records electronically.
The metric that hurts Massachusetts the most, accounting for 35 points of the 100-point index, is the requirement of personal IDs to request SFI forms, as the Commonwealth is the only state where anonymous requests are not accepted. The state gains only 15 points on the index from SFI forms being both available online and electronically searchable.
Moreover, 16 states have a process for requesting SFIs before viewing them, but unlike in Massachusetts, many of those processes are simple and informal, such as emailing a state administrative official.
In a March 2019 policy memo, Pioneer made specific recommendations for reforming SFI policy in the Commonwealth, many of which improve the state’s index score by fulfilling the seven “best practices” inherent in the underlying metrics. Among those, eliminating registration, photo ID, and filer notification requirements for viewing SFIs would do the most to end the institutional discouragement of constituents from investigating conflicts of interest. Other reforms, such as requiring electronic filing, would save administrative costs and make it easier to facilitate public availability. There’s also capacity for improvements in the content of SFIs that increase transparency, such as requiring disclosure of all real estate holdings and modernizing the income bracket categories.
Pioneer Institute is devoted to increasing government transparency in Massachusetts, and the goal of these reforms is plainly to minimize the potential for corruption by holding officials on Beacon Hill accountable to the public.
Andrew Mikula is the Lovett & Ruth Peters Economic Opportunity Fellow at the Pioneer Institute. Research areas of particular interest to Mr. Mikula include urban issues, affordability, and regulatory structures. Mr. Mikula was previously a Roger Perry Government Transparency Intern at the Institute and studied economics at Bates College.