It was part of an awards ceremony recognizing individuals and government agencies which advance the cause of open government
The ceremony was held on March 16, which was quite fitting. For one thing, March 16 is the birthday of James Madison, one of our nation’s earliest advocates of government transparency.
The country’s fourth president, Madison believed an informed citizenry was the key to holding government accountable. He wrote that government derives its power from the “consent of the governed,” which requires that people be able to “arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
It’s also worth noting that the week of March 13-19 was “Sunshine Week,” an annual observance of open-government laws… sometimes referred to as “sunshine laws.” It’s observed primarily by news outlets, which use the occasion to shine a light on the problem of closed-door government.
Sunshine Week aims to promote a dialogue about open-meetings laws and laws that grant the public access to government records.
While that’s certainly a worthwhile objective – after all, people have a right to know what their government is up to — I used it as an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of online financial disclosure
In recent years, we’ve made great strides in the area of financial transparency – starting three years ago with the State Government Transparency Web Site. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time encouraging local governments – cities, towns and counties – as well as colleges and universities, to post their itemized expenditures online.
I’m happy to report that we’ve had much success, and public spending in South Carolina is becoming much more transparent.
But given the Internet Age in which we live, the public interest dictates that there is much left to be done — at all levels of government – to put spending records at the public’s fingertips.
Those government entities which have not yet put their spending records online must catch up, and those that already put them online must build upon that achievement and continually search for ways to improve how they present information to the public.
I’m currently working with the state Office of Human Resources to increase disclosure of state employee salaries (at present, only the salaries of those making over $50,000 are disclosed.) And personally, I’d like to see greater transparency for legal fees paid to private attorneys who represent the state, which might require legislative action.
Every dollar pulled from the pockets of taxpayers should receive the sunlight of public scrutiny.
Online financial disclosure isn’t a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. It’s a good government issue, and it’s simply the right thing to do.