A new survey of state-government ethics and openness reaches a conclusion that flies in the face of popular conceptions:

New Jersey - setting for The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire and Jersey Shore - is the nation's most politically transparent state.

After measuring 330 "Corruption Risk Indicators," the State Integrity Investigation, gave its highest grade, a B+, to the Garden State, just ahead of Connecticut, which got a B.

New Jersey even got A's for procurement, internal auditing, lobby disclosure, state pension fund management, ethics enforcement agencies, and redistricting.

The Garden State is really squeaky clean?

Not so fast. The study has a paradoxical explanation.

"States with histories of corruption tend to have more recent and robust laws in place to deter such behavior," the study's announcement stated.

Pennsylvania was ranked 21st, with a C- overall, but just two A's in 14 categories - for internal auditing and procurement - for four F's, for judicial accountability, political financing, state budget processes, and redistricting.

Delaware was No. 22, also with a C- overall.

Eight states flunked. Getting an F were Georgia, Michigan, Maine, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia and Wyoming.

(For all 50 states, ranked by grades and alphabetical order, see http://bit.ly/xk2vDF.)

The investigation, which had reporters tally "the strength of laws and practices that encourage openness and deter corruption," was a collaborative effort by three groups - the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International, and Global Integrity.

Unlike previous studies, it went beyond counting up scandals to assess government access and openness in "14 categories of government," including campaign finance; executive, legislative and judicial accountability; civil service management; lobbying disclosure; ethics enforcement; and insurance commissions, according to the researchers.

For more, go to www.stateintegrity.org.