Openness, accountability, and honesty define government transparency. In a free society, transparency is government’s obligation to share information with citizens. It is at the heart of how citizens hold their public officials accountable.
Governments exist to serve the people. Information on how officials conduct the public business and spend taxpayers’ money must be readily available and easily understood. This transparency allows good and just governance.
Government transparency is traditionally broken into three different types: proactive disclosure, requesting public records, and campaign finance disclosure.
See also: Proactive disclosure
Proactive disclosure is the revelation of information that may be damaging to the one revealing it. When used in the terms of open government, it is the practice of the government publishing government data, rather than for an individual’s public records request. This data could be published online in a number of forms like RSS, API, upload, download, IG review, or FTP.
By type of government
The Sunshine Review has developed a “Ten Point Transparency Checklist” for determining how transparent a local government unit is.
State governments need to share the same information as local governments to be transparent, however the state governments have a lot more information that needs to be open than most local governments. The amount of information in each section needs to have the same level of detail as that of local governments. This includes budget items and revenue items (taxes) This information includes:
- Records of the Governor’s Office
- Records on House and Senate Bills along with voting records
- Expense Reports of Elected and Appointed officials
State governments all have their own transparency laws and versions of FOIA. Most states exempt Records of the Governor’s office from FOIA requests. States such as Louisiana are developing online databases to provide citizens with access to Records on Bills and Laws, as well as on spending.
The United States Federal Government has taken many steps towards becoming more transparent, however it has many departments that are not transparent as well as extensive amounts of information that is deemed “classified” and exempt from FOIA. Like most state governments, many of the files of the executive, the President, are exempt from open records requests. The Presidential Records Act of 1978 allows for records to be sealed for up to 12 years. This however has not stopped many records from being sealed for several decades.
See also: Open Records and Transparency Project
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the implementation of freedom of information legislation in the United States, allowing citizens to request and pay for access to government data. It was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 4, 1966 (Amended 2002), and went into effect the following year. This act allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the federal government. The Act defines agency records subject to disclosure, outlines mandatory disclosure procedures and grants nine exemptions to the statute.
These laws have also been signed into place at the levels, and continue to be challenged in court and reformed by state governments. Some have contended that proactive disclosure is a way to less the burden on public officials, but FOIA remains a very strong tool for government transparency.
Campaign finance in the United States is the financing of electoral campaigns at the federal, state, and local levels.
At the federal level, the primary source of campaign funds is individuals; political action committees are a distant second. Contributions from both are limited, and direct contributions from corporations and labor unions are prohibited. On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court overturned a 20-year-old ruling that had previously prohibited corporations and unions from using money from their general treasuries to produce and run their own campaign ads.
Campaign finance is a controversial issue, pitting concerns about free speech against concerns about corruption and inequality on the part of those who favor existing or further restrictions.
Federal Government Links
State Government Links