Stateline Story

Governor, What's in Your Wallet?

  • July 19, 2007
  • By Eric Kelderman

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) is required to divulge more about her and her husband's personal finances than is any other governor in the country, while citizens in Idaho, Michigan, Utah and Vermont have no rights to view any information on their governor's investments or business ties, according to a new report.

The Center for Public Integrity , a nonprofit organization that does investigative reporting and research, compared the financial disclosure requirements for governors, executive branch officials and judges across the 50 states. States were ranked according to a survey that awarded up to 100 points for the amount of financial details they require and for how accessible the information is to the public. Twenty-one states that earned 60 or fewer points got a flunking rating because they require the governor to file little or no information on personal investments, property holdings, business affiliations and other financial interests.

Disparities among states mean that Gregoire was forced to disclose details such as her mortgages on vacation properties in Idaho and British Columbia, while all that Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) had to divulge was his name and home and business addresses and phone numbers. In addition to surveying states' disclosure laws, the center gathered financial statements filed by governors, executive branch employees, judges and state legislators into an electronic database available to the public.

The information in governors' financial disclosures has been important in recent years for revealing potential conflicts of interest. A federal investigation was launched after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's (D) 2006 report showed a $1,500 check, listed as a birthday present for the governor's 7-year-old daughter. The check came from Blagojevich's former campaign treasurer, whose wife had received a state job two weeks earlier.

More often, the discovery of something missing from governor's reports has raised ethical or legal issues for governors. In 2005, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) failed to disclose a contract with fitness magazine publisher American Media Inc. that would have paid him as much as $5 million. The arrangement was criticized because the former bodybuilder had vetoed a bill in 2004 to restrict the use of performance-enhancing supplements. After a media storm and threats of a state investigation, Schwarzenegger ended the contract.

Also in 2005, then-Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R) pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor ethics charges for failing to report more than 50 golf outings and other entertainment gifts on his state disclosure form. Taft was fined $4,000.

The center also researched state laws limiting gifts to governors and state lawmakers, finding the strictest in Florida, where the Legislature in 2006 banned lobbyists even from buying a cup of coffee for an elected official. Disclosure statements listing gifts revealed that Schwarzenegger, who established a smoking tent outside the Statehouse, received $3,500 worth of cigars and humidors in 2005 and that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) got a $3,695 pair of custom-made cowboy boots from the state GOP in May of that year.

Among the 46 states with disclosure laws, Indiana, Louisiana and Rhode Island are among the few that require governors to disclose many more details of their personal finances than is required of state legislators, the center found. The center's 2004 report on financial reporting requirements for legislators found that Washington state also had the most rigorous reporting requirements for state lawmakers.

The new study also examined the financial disclosure laws for judges in states' highest courts, finding that 47 require judges to report non-judicial income and 39 states require them to report officer or director positions with businesses or nonprofit groups.

Using such disclosure forms, the Star-Telegram of Fort Worth, Texas, reported this week that a state Supreme Court justice collected nearly $447,000 from the state's top law firms and attorneys to defend himself from charges that he abused his office to support former White House Counsel Harriet Miers' nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.