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November 12, 2010
Step into the Sunshine
Infamous Bell, California and its arrogant, millionaire public servants illustrated for citizens everywhere the benefit and the necessity for transparency in government spending.
"Transparency" has, over the years, become rhetoric; another campaign slogan offered up by candidates seeking to tap into public unease with the status quo of government spending. And regardless of who is elected or unelected, the result is predictable: no perceptible improvement. The lack of real transparency breeds dishonest, wasteful, and unethical government spending, resulting in public anger and distrust of government. The time has arrived for everyone, from grassroots activists to the President of the United States, to take seriously the increasingly opaque nature of government spending.
There needs to be a baseline standard of transparency that government should be required to meet. In order to help turn this idea into a reality, a new project is being launched this week: The Sunshine Standard. This website/project offers a new opportunity for everyday people to get active and to hold their own state and local officials accountable, much like the abused citizens of Bell, California have done.
The Sunshine Standard provides every state with its own page filled with links to all of the watchdog and transparency organizations within that state. Some of these organizations are independent, while others are affiliated with think tanks or policy centers located in each state.
Activists will also find up-to-date news stories about government transparency, a Sunshine Pledge to be signed by elected officials and candidates, model Sunshine legislation that can be introduced into every state legislature and signed into law, information about Freedom of Information and Open Meeting laws in each state and local area, and an opportunity to sign up for updates and actionable items by becoming a member of the "Sunshine League."
One of the most important goals of the Sunshine Standard is to clarify the definition of "transparency." Until now, the inherent vagueness of the term has allowed politicians to get away with waxing on and on about "transparency" while actually doing little to promote it. There are currently two competing definitions of transparency.
The first definition of transparency:
Government's obligation to share information that citizens need to make informed decisions and hold officials accountable for the conduct of the people's business.
The second definition of transparency:
Private citizens' obligation to share information about how they spend their own money.
Notice a difference?
The first definition seeks to make government more accountable to the people while the second definition seeks to make private citizens more accountable to... other private citizens. The second definition is frequently promoted by activists on the left as seen with their advocacy for the DISCLOSE Act and their unending obsession with exposing private donors who give to conservative leaning organizations and causes. The unsubstantiated allegations of secret, foreign money being accepted by the Chamber of Commerce before the elections this year are another example of how "transparency" can be co-opted for goals other than keeping government accountable to the people.
The distinction between the two definitions could not be greater, or more important. The information, resources, and tools found on the Sunshine Standard were all created with the first definition in mind. We want to help you keep government honest and accountable, it's as simple as that. Our hope is that this goal will cross party and ideological lines, and invite everyone to join us in this fight.
Think again of Bell, California. The citizens there continued to reelect the same people because no one knew that the elected officials were paying themselves millions of dollars. Once the story broke and the people knew about the corruption, they were able to take action, and Bell is on its way to being a place where the government serves the people, not the other way around.
With the elections resulting in hundreds of new state representatives, all of whom campaigned on changing the ways of government, our hope is that citizens in every city, county and state will take their own governments to task now that they have the tools and resources to make it happen.
Keli Carender is the Director of Outreach and Education for the Sunshine Standard and State Budget Solutions. She is also a national support staff member of Tea Party Patriots.