SW Opinion 2016

As Sunshine Week 2016 nears, we will be posting opinion columns that may be used by any participant March 13-19, 2016 in conjunction with Sunshine Week. If you would like to submit a column for consideration, please contact sunshineweek@asne.org.

Please note that the columns below represent the viewpoints of the authors and not necessarily Sunshine Week organizers.

“Keep the conversation going on campaign finance disclosure,” by George Stanley, editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Last Sunday I wrote about the need to replace obsolete campaign finance limits with new laws revealing campaign donors at the state and federal level. Many of you wrote to ask how we might get that done. Please, let’s keep that conversation going. The purpose of the new disclosure rules would be to let citizens know who is behind political advertising and their interests in the outcome of the race.” (Read more)

sw15-bender-new-60x80“True disclosure demands full accountability,” by Edwin Bender, executive director, National Institute on Money in State Politics: “With its Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court clearly articulated the value of disclosure and transparency to the health of our democracy…. Sadly, the type of transparency and disclosure envisioned by the justices doesn’t exist.” (Read more)

brucecain-60x80“Is our government too open?” by Bruce Cain, Stanford University, and Charles Lewis, American University: It’s been 50 years since Congress adopted the Freedom of Information Act, which provides access to documents held by federal agencies. Since 1966, Congress has adopted many other laws designed to promote openness. But have we gone too far, and undermined the capacity of public officials to solve our major problems? The Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri invited two experts to weigh in. (Read more)

foxhall-60x80“Drastic change in federal culture needed to end suppression of information,” by Kathryn Foxhall, Freedom of Information Committee member, Society of Professional Journalists: “But over the last 25 years there has been a surge in restrictions in all kinds of agencies and businesses prohibiting staff from ever speaking to journalists without the involvement of public information offices, sometimes called communication offices or public relations offices. Most federal agencies have these controls, as do many offices in Congress, state and local governments, schools, nonprofit agencies and businesses. Gradually the restrictions have become bolder, with agencies telling reporters what may or may not be discussed, never allowing a word to pass without active monitoring and blocking communication altogether.” (Read more)

sw13-oped-freeman60x80“Snapchat and the Public’s Right to Know: Poof — and it’s Gone!” by Robert J. Freeman, executive director, New York State Committee on Open Government, Albany: “Based on the definition, FOIL clearly applies not only to paper records, but also to email and other electronic communications kept in some physical form. All of that is terrific when it comes to accountability and the possibility of disclosure to the public. But FOIL applies to existing records, and what if the message is sent through Snapchat, and poof! Now it’s gone, and FOIL no longer applies! Can that be legal if its effect defeats the purpose of a law that’s designed to provide access to government records to the public?” (Read more)

goodman-60x80hartung60x80“More transparency is needed on the Pentagon’s military aid programs,” by Colby Goodman, director, and William D. Hartung, senior adviser, Security Assistance Monitor: “Providing military and police aid to the security forces of other nations — also referred to as security assistance — has become a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. The programs administered by the Department of Defense are of particular concern, since they are the least transparent and therefore the most likely to be abused.” (Read more)

hunhoff2-60x80“Ten Commandments for Open Meetings,” by Brian J. Hunhoff, contributing editor, Yankton County (S.D.) Observer: “We appreciate our local commissioners and board members. They serve for minimal compensation. They make tough decisions. They sometimes lose friends and make enemies. Their dedication to community is admirable. We simply ask elected officials to think twice before kicking the public out of public meetings. Strive for fewer. Less is more. A closed meeting should be a rare occasion, not a habit.” (Read more)

sw16-keene-60x80sw16-reichental-60x80“Idea to retire: Government is responsible for taking care of everything,” by James Keene, city manager, Palo Alto, Calif., and Jonathan Reichental, chief information officer, Palo Alto, Calif.: “One of the crucial tasks facing city governments today is to help activate that neighbor and community partnership and enliven it, converting “residents“ to “citizens”, and sharing the direct responsibility for quality of life with citizens themselves. That requires loosening up our hold on the systems of information and governing. It requires citizens to acquire or deepen their capacity for effective self-governance. For Palo Alto, that means open government.” (Read more)

“Jersey City’s data portal journey,” by Brian Platt, director, Office of Innovation, Jersey City, N.J.: “We live in a world that craves instant access to information, data, and data analysis on everything around us, an expectation that especially includes government entities.  We as government officials cannot afford to wait any longer to begin making our data and information as accessible and public as possible. Our story shows that even a city starting with no data infrastructure or resources can create enormous value through small, low-cost steps.” (Read more)

sw16-schneider-60x80“Republicans and Democrats unite to as President Obama: Why haven’t you signed this popular transparency order?” by Gabriela Schneider, senior communications director, IssueOne: “This Sunshine Week, as news organizations and advocates reflect on the progress we’ve made on transparency and right-to-know reforms, it is critical to urge President Obama to sign an executive order that would shine a light on one tranche of money in politics by requiring disclosure of all political spending by businesses that receive taxpayer money through federal contracts.” (Read more)

“To help democracy, we need to shed light on major donors,” by George Stanley, editor, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “The problem right now is that the old restrictions on donor influence haven’t yet been replaced, at the federal or state level, with new rules to limit the power of the few over the many. One simple solution could help, and Sunshine Week is a good time to start the conversation: Let the voters know who is financing political campaigns by requiring full and immediate disclosure of major contributors to the campaigns, parties and groups buying political ads before an election.” (Read more)

sw15-MaryTreacy-60x80“Young people and the right to information,” by Mary Treacy, blogger and FOI advocate, Minneapolis, Minn.: “The right to know is the birthright of every child born in this democracy. The challenge is to recognize and nurture that right, to inculcate the attitudes and skills that make it a reality. The welfare of the child and of the nation depends on the exercise of this fundamental right.” (Read more)

GretchenWhitmer-60x80“The People of Flint are owed so much, starting with the Truth,” by Gretchen Whitmer, former Michigan Senate Democratic leader, and now lecturer, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan: “The people of Flint are owed the truth. They are owed an answer to how their government failed them so badly. And they are owed the promise that their state won’t allow the same mistakes to happen again. Lifting the veil of secrecy that currently lies over Michigan’s Capitol would be a tremendous first step in that direction.” (Read more)

“More Sunlight Would Enrich Our Debate on Trade,” by Celia Wexler, senior Washington representative, Center for Science and Democracy, Union of Concerned Scientists: “So are we now in transparency heaven when it comes to trade deals? That doesn’t appear to be the case. The fast-track bill does permit more congressional staff to see trade documents, but only if they have the appropriate security clearance.” (Read more)

zachary-60x80“Government business must be open; Media must help hold officials accountable,” by Jim Zachary, editor of the Valdosta (Ga.) Daily Times and director of the Transparency Project of Georgia: “Government must be held accountable. The only way for the public to hold government accountable is for all of the actions of government to be out in the open. That is why open government is part and parcel of democracy. When government is allowed to operate behind closed doors, it grows out of control, is not responsive to the public and is subject to corruption.” (Read more)

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