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Wisconsin Tops Integrity Index

November 10, 2002

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MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Despite recent scandals that have shaken the state, Wisconsin ranks No. 1 in a watchdog group’s integrity index, based on its laws aimed at fighting corruption.

``Are you serious? Give me a break,″ said Democratic state Rep. Tom Hebl when told of the ranking.

The index was released by the Better Government Association of Chicago, which began the study after a corruption scandal involving Illinois state government.

The group considered each state’s laws regarding the Freedom of Information Act, whistle-blower protection, campaign finance, gifts, trips and conflicts of interest.

Wisconsin was determined to be best prepared to fight corruption.

``One reason for the corruption in Illinois is the fact that the political and governmental environment is like that of the wild, wild West with weak or virtually nonexistent laws regarding integrity or ethics,″ Terrance Norton, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. ``We simply wanted to know if Illinois’ laws were worse, better or the same as other states’.″

After Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Hawaii and California made the top five of the index. At the bottom were Louisiana, Alabama, New Mexico, Vermont and South Dakota.

``It’s ironic that we should get this now,″ said Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling. ``It’s sort of a biting thing to sort of remind us of what we’re capable of.″

In recent months in Wisconsin, an investigation into alleged illegal campaign work on state time at the Capitol resulted in criminal charges against five lawmakers, including top leaders of the Senate and Assembly.

Also, a Milwaukee County pension scandal over vastly improved benefits led to recall drives against the county executive and County Board members.

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