Introducing a new home for government accountability
The Sunshine Standard, a new website, espouses the view that all levels of government “have an obligation to proactively share the information people need to hold officials accountable.” Through model legislation, pledge appeals, a news portal, and relevant links the creators intend the site to be a “one-stop resource for citizens seeking to enhance government transparency” and to “shift the burden from citizens and journalists to state and local governments.”
The Sunshine Review, the non-profit organization overseeing the project, has conducted research to undergird their premise that governments do not embrace transparency, let alone proactively share their information. For example, going by the organization’s 10-point transparency standard, only 40 out of 5,000 government websites achieved either a 9 or 10.
“Clearly, [Freedom of Information Act requests] and official goodwill are simply not working,” says the site’s executive director, Michael Barnhart. “Despite sunshine laws and pro-transparency rhetoric, information requests by journalists and citizens are routinely ignored, given the bureaucratic ‘slow roll,’ and discouraged by inflated price tags for staff time and copying.”
To coincide with the initial release of the site, Barnhart wrote an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, in which he noted an array of corruption scandals from recent times. In the city of Bell, California, for example – home to 37,000 idividuals – reporters found the city’s manager receiving remuneration of $1.5 million. And that was just the tip of an iceberg of “corruption on steroids,” according to the Los Angeles Country district attorney.
With such damning information public, the manager resigned, along with his assistant and the police chief. Then in September these three individuals, along with five other individuals, were arrested and charged with misappropriation of public funds.
That these scandals were unearthed, though, was the positive moral of the story. Barnhart hopes that with greater transparency from the outset – by way of legislative mandates and a better equipped constituency – “outrages” like Bell will be “a thing of the past.”