Is Maine one of the most corrupt states in the nation?

Many people might have been tempted to interpret a report issued last week by a national public-interest group that way, but the good news is that the report didn’t say that.

Unfortunately — because this is definitely not good news — the report said that the state’s ethics laws, along with required reports of outside income and the tracking of programs sponsored by lawmakers and executive branch officials that might benefit relatives or friends, are all so weak (or nonexistent) that there’s really no way to tell if corruption is rife.

That’s unconscionable, and it needs to change as quickly as possible. There’s no excuse for such slackness about accountability for people who hold their jobs because they were elected to them by the public, or who were hired by people put in responsible positions by those who were elected.

The report, available at www.stateintegrity.org, is a study of all 50 states by the Center for Public Integrity, along with Public Radio International and Global Integrity. Those groups found that no state deserved an “A” grade, according to the report’s ranking procedure.

Maine was one of eight states, however, that got an overall “F” on scales that measured “330 corruption risk indicators across 14 government categories, including access to information, campaign finance, executive accountability, legislative accountability, judicial accountability, budgeting, civil service management, procurement, internal auditing, lobbying disclosure, pension fund management, ethics enforcement, insurance commissions, and redistricting,” the Associated Press reported.

Maine was ranked 46th among the 50 states. Astoundingly, New Jersey was No. 1, mostly because it passed the nation’s toughest laws in reaction to a long history of corruption.

Our state, in comparison, got an “A” in only one category: internal auditing.

When it comes to reporting sources of income, lawmakers and other officials only have to list sources that give them more than $1,000 per year — with no more detail than that. With such slack standards, which pervade the state’s finances and budget-setting processes, both in the Legislature and in the executive branch, citizens have few ways of finding out how funding priorities are established.

This, the report says, makes it very hard to be sure undue pressures are not influencing the budgeting and spending process.

As one example, the Bangor Daily News reported in January that, “Between 2003 and 2010, the state paid almost $235 million to private organizations run by legislative leaders or the spouses of high-level state officials. But because of a loophole in state law, not one penny of that spending was ever disclosed to the public in ethics filings.”

A bill has been introduced to close that loophole, but the fact it went on so long speaks volumes.

Maine is also one of 11 states that has no agency overseeing ethical issues in the executive branch (there is one supervising legislators). Additionally, there is no law restricting officials leaving government service and moving immediately to private firms they formerly regulated or otherwise provided oversight or financing.

This situation cries out for swift resolution, and Gov. LePage and legislative leaders should conduct a full evaluation of every category covered by this report and pass legislation closing all these loopholes.

If they want advice, they can always ask New Jersey how it’s done.