I know of few other news organization that would do this: spend nearly nine months and countless hours going over every personal financial disclosure statement from a total of 335 state supreme court justices. That’s more than 4,000 pages from all 50 states going back three years. That’s what the Center for Public Integrity has just accomplished. Then we issued a grade for every state, making all of this information public.
The result is a new comprehensive report showing that 42 states and the District of Columbia received a failing grade for their disclosure requirements for high court judges. Not a single state earned an A or a B. The two highest-scoring states — California and Maryland — got Cs. Six other states earned a D, while the rest failed.
The Center’s investigation found multiple examples of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads as well as other entanglements. The Center found judges who authored opinions favoring companies in which they owned stock. We found judges who ruled on cases even when family members were receiving income from one of the parties. And we found judges who accepted lavish gifts — such as an Arkansas justice who accepted a $50,000 trip to Italy from a lawyer.
We also found that:
- Judges in three states — Montana, Utah and Idaho — aren’t required to file any disclosure reports at all.
- The Center identified 14 instances in the past three years in which justices or their spouses owned stock in companies involved in litigation before the judge.
- Twelve states rely on self-policing disciplinary bodies — made up of high-court justices themselves — to enforce their own courts’ ethical rules.
Other reports have noted the growing and potentially corrupting influence of campaign contributions on judicial elections. But little attention has been paid to the personal finances of the 335 judges in the state courts of last resort and how those holdings may influence decisions handed down from the bench.
The Center for Public Integrity’s findings have been re-published by more than six dozen other news organizations so far, from the Associated Press to the National Journal, and from the Washington Post to CBS.
The Center for Public Integrity has signed up for a new crowd-funding effort for investigative journalism, called “Uncoverage.” Uncoverage will soon be operating under the banner, “Powering Investigative Journalism That Matters;” and “The News is Broken. Let’s Fix It.” Uncoverage is just getting going. As one of the nation’s leading investigative journalism centers, The Center for Public Integrity is pleased to help get Uncoverage off the ground, and grow our own crowd-funded support. You can read about the new operation here in the New York Times. As the paper reported, Uncoverage “will test whether the public cares enough about investigative journalism to pay for it.”
Give with Confidence
In keeping with our commitment to transparency and accountability, the Center for Public Integrity is routinely evaluated by major “watchdog” groups that keep an eye on nonprofits. The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance ran a full page ad in USA Today’s sharing section for Giving Tuesday this week. Under the headline, “Give with Confidence,” the BBB ad promotes the organization’s Charity Seal program. The ad lists all non-profit organizations that have met the BBB’s 20 rigorous standards for charity governance, including The Center for Public Integrity.
In addition, The Center for Public Integrity has earned a 4-star rating for the fourth consecutive year from Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest charity rating organization. Four stars means that the Center, according to Charity Navigator, “adheres to good governance and other best practices that minimize the chance of unethical activities and consistently executes its mission in a fiscally responsible way.”
Charity Navigator says that only about 6% of non-profits have received at least 4 consecutive 4-star evaluations. The organization reports that the “Center for Public Integrity outperforms most other charities in America. This ‘exceptional’ designation from Charity Navigator differentiates Center for Public Integrity from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust.”
I am delighted both by our latest investigative work on state supreme court justices, and by these clear endorsements of our organization. As we say on our donation page, “Every dollar makes a difference.” Thanks for your support.
Until next week,
Read more in Inside Public Integrity
Interactive database illuminates company giving to politically active nonprofits