NCSL News

NCSL Perspective on Ethics
and State Legislators

Peggy KernsPeggy Kerns of NCSL's Center for Ethics in Government discusses ethics in legislatures
 in this video.
 (3:28)

Karl KurtzKarl Kurtz, director of NCSL's Trust for Representative Democracy, explains that legislatures are the nation's most open form of government in this video. (4:00)

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October 21, 2010

ABC News Stories Sell Short Honest Efforts of State Legislators

Statistics used by ABC News to try to paint America’s state legislatures as “disgraceful” don’t add up.

In two reports on Wednesday, ABC News claimed state legislatures have a “disgraceful record of misbehavior and corruption” and are experiencing a “surge of bad behavior.” ABC News claims that over the last five years, 80 state legislators have been indicted or convicted of crimes.

Research by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that more than 10,000 men and women have served as state legislators during this same time period. That means only 0.8 percent have been indicted, and even fewer convicted.

“The truth is that people elected to America’s state legislatures today serve under a higher level of ethics and scrutiny than in any other generation,” says NCSL Executive Director William T. Pound. “The legislative branch is, without question, the most transparent and open branch of government.”

The stories that aired also attempted to look at the influence of money on public policy. NCSL recognizes public concern about this issue, and in the last 15 years has created two programs to promote ethical behavior and greater public understanding of representative democracy.

NCSL’s Center for Ethics in Government encourages public trust and confidence in representative democracy. The mission of the center is to be a leader in promoting ethical behavior among legislators, staff, lobbyists, and advocates. The center's well-respected data were cited in ABC ‘s recent report, showing how states are strengthening their ethics laws and enacting strong regulations.

NCSL’s Trust for Representative Democracy is a civic education campaign designed to build citizens’ understanding and support for America’s democratic institutions by encouraging them to play a responsible role in their government. Through its programs, the trust has positively influenced national opinions on representative democracy and has been actively involved in promoting public policies that strengthen the civic mission of schools.


NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.