Below are the outstanding opinion columns offered to participants for Sunshine Week 2013. Please note that they many no longer be reprinted without the express permission of the author.
We Need to Follow All of the Money, and Faster: by Bill Allison, Editorial Director, Sunlight Foundation: There are still only two important things in politics, as the 19th century’s own Karl Rove, a Republican fundraiser named Mark Hanna, once said: “The first is money, and I can’t remember the second.” For Americans who want to make sure that their government isn’t for sale to the highest bidder, that first item should be transparency. Through its Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, the Supreme Court made it easier than ever for politicians and their surrogates to raise huge donations from special interests. Read more.
Fresh Thinking About FOIA, by Amy Bennett, Assistant Director, OpentheGovernment.org: The Obama Administration prides itself on using the power of the Internet to keep the federal government in touch with the public and, in some ways, it has even proven to be fairly good at it…. Those “successes” in this area, however, make it all the more disappointing that the administration has not invested the same kind of technology and ingenuity into answering requests for government information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Read more.
Improving Transparency in Michigan, by Jane Briggs-Bunting, Michigan Coalition for Open Government: Welcome to Sunshine Week, and no, I am not talking about the fickle weather in the state. I am talking about the public’s right and responsibility to keep an eye on what our government at the local, state and federal level are up to from our legislators to our bureaucrats, school boards, state universities, teachers, mayors, managers, department heads, council members, cops and others….Sunshine Week is also the official launch of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government (MiCOG). Michigan was one of just two states (the other is Alaska) without an open government group. Read more.
FOIL Saves Lives, by By Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director, Committee on Open Government, New York State Department of State, Albany: When government officials complain about the burdens associated with dealing with requests under the Freedom of Information Law, known by many in New York as “FOIL”, I’ve suggested that they stop complaining, because FOIL saves money…. Perhaps more striking is a recent article published by the Albany Times Union that led to the conclusion that FOIL saves lives. Read more.
Don’t Let Local Governments Gut the Public Records Act, by Katherine George, Board Member, Washington Coalition for Open Government, and Attorney, Harrison-Benis LLP, Seattle: For 40 years, Washington’s Public Records Act has been a window for anyone to see what’s going on in state, county and city governments, schools and other local agencies. As a recent example, this landmark law helped The Seattle Times uncover troubles leading to Rob Holland’s resignation from the Port of Seattle Commission. The bad news is: Our local governments are fighting hard to weaken the act. And some state legislators are championing the cause of scaling back the public’s right to know. Read More.
Are We Less Safe?, by Elizabeth Goitein, Co-director, the Liberty and National Security Program, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law: President Obama began his first term by pledging to bring an unprecedented level of transparency to government. Although he has done that in some areas, it has become apparent that his pledge came with an asterisk: in matters of national security policy, he has largely continued and even intensified his predecessor’s secretive practices.But while the common justification for such conduct is the protection of Americans, there is much evidence that excessive secrecy actually harms national security. Read more.
Need for Open Government Has Never Been Greater, by Charles Hill, Michigan Coalition for Open Government: It’s your government. And it’s your money that’s paying for it. You deserve to know how that money is being spent and whether waste, fraud, corruption, conflicts of interest or just bad decision-making is getting in the way of the results you expect for your money. Customers every day demand accountability from the people who remodel their houses, serve them food, fix their cars, or sell them a TV or a computer. People demand their money’s worth, especially when money is as tight as it is today. Citizens should demand the same accountability — and more — of their government. Read more.
Don’t Let Broadcasters Continue to Ignore Political Ad Disclosure, by Kathy Kiely, Managing Editor, Sunlight Foundation: Americans rely on their local TV stations for news. But at some of those stations, an examination by the Sunlight Foundation of newly accessible public records reveals, the management has been helping to cover the tracks of stealth committees that last year financed hundreds of millions of dollars in negative campaign ads. We know this because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had enough guts and legal savvy to force broadcasters to put political ad records online in time for last year’s election. Read more.
Media and Public Both Have Roles in Oversight, By Jim Lee, Editor, The Carroll County (Md.) Times: The caller on the other end of the phone line was near exacerbation. He had been given the run-around by government officials, the very people he put in office to represent him, and his quest for answers was met time and again with roadblocks. I don’t recall the specifics of the man’s concern, or the public officials who he was trying to spur to action in a cause he passionately believed in that he related in the conversation years ago. But one thing that he said has stuck with me, and it is something that I go back to time and again whenever someone calls with similar concerns. He told me that the paper needed to pursue getting the records that he sought and had been denied. “They have to give it to you,” he said. “You’re the newspaper.” Read more.
Show Us the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Assistance Budget, by Lora Lumpe, Senior Policy Analyst, Open Society Foundations: A government advisory board led by former Defense Secretary Bill Perry recently issued a report showing that the Pentagon provides nearly double the amount of assistance to foreign police and military forces than the Department of State does. While the State Department, the agency that traditionally provided the bulk of foreign military and police assistance, is required by Congress to detail its spending plans each year, the Pentagon can dole out its money with little public accountability. While this is a budgeting issue, it also underscores the need for more transparency in governing. Read more.
Spread Accountability: Stop Stealth Lobbying, by Lisa Rosenberg, Government Affairs Consultant, Sunlight Foundation, Washington: “Former Senator Joins Firm as Strategic Adviser.” Such headlines appear in business sections and political rags with banal regularity as members of Congress, agency heads and high-ranking congressional staff decide to trade their government contacts for cash. It may be difficult to close the revolving door, but it shouldn’t be hard to find out what those who cycle through it are doing or for whom they are doing it. Read more.
How to Improve State Legislatures’ Transparency, by Gabriela Schneider, Communications Director, Sunlight Foundation: How well does your state legislature give its citizens access to its information? This Sunshine Week, as we reflect on the public’s right to know and the importance of open government, this should be a central question….With an increasingly gridlocked U.S. Congress, we can expect policy debates on a variety of important topics to be taken up in our state capitols. It’s critically important to be able to effectively monitor these public policy debates and those who seek to influence them. And in a democracy, citizens have the right to know how their elected officials at all levels consider legislation so they can be held accountable. Read more.
Make Congressional Research Service Reports Available to the Public, By Daniel Schuman, Policy Counsel, Sunlight Foundation, Washington, and Director, Advisory Committee on Transparency: In 1914, an uncharacteristically foresighted Congress spent $25,000 to establish a fact-finding arm whose mission was to gather “data…bearing upon legislation, and to render such data serviceable to Congress.” A century later, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) generates hundreds of analytical nonpartisan reports on legislative issues each year….However, unlike its sister agencies that investigate federal spending and analyze the budgetary effects of legislation, CRS does not release its reports to the public on a regular basis. Read More.
Break the Conspiracy of Silence, by Amrit Singh, Senior Legal Officer for National Security and Counterterrorism, Open Society Justice Initiative: The debate over torture and the secret detention of terrorist suspects lingers more than a decade after the September 11 terrorist attacks mainly because there has been no public reckoning with the Bush administration’s torture and detention policies. The reality is that Americans still do not have all of the facts. To be sure, we have some information about the torture methods authorized by the Bush administration. But the full scope of what was done to whom and where remains secret. Read more.
Three-legged Stool Can’t Stand on Only Two, by David T. Thompson, Executive Director, Kentucky Press Association: My mom used to have a small, three-legged wooden stool…. But no matter if it was strong and sturdy, the three-legged stool was no good if something happened to one of the legs. It couldn’t stand on just two. You’re probably already wondering what a three-legged stool has to do with the newspaper business. Open government is a three-legged stool. Read More.
From ‘The Daily Show’ to the Daily News, Federal Scientists Often Face Obstacles Sharing Their Knowledge, by Celia Viggo Wexler, Senior Washington Representative, Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists: Did you hear the story about the federal scientist and the two-headed fish? The fish? Maybe, but likely not the scientist. That’s because the scientist in question turned down the chance to tell his story to The Daily Show, discouraged from making the appearance by his bosses at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And that’s too bad, because it would have given a federal scientist the opportunity to directly engage with an audience of millions of viewers, and explain how science won the day. Read more.
Let the Sun Shine on Public’s Business, by Richard S. Whiting, Executive Editor, Index-Journal, Greenwood, SC: Daylight Saving Time officially arrived today. People all across are rejoicing because this day, in a sense, signals the start to spring. At the very least, this day is the start of many days to come when a good number of people’s normal wakeup time will include a refreshing dose of sunlight. And so it is only appropriate today is also the launch of Sunshine Week in South Carolina, a week set aside to promote and extol open government, transparency in government. Read more.