The Open Secrets Effect


The man who really introduced me to the power of Internet (long story, see his explanation here) — Gavin Clabaugh — reminds us what shining a light into hidden corners of Washington, and mixing the data with a bit of technology and a handful of the Internet (with a little Miller and co-conspirator pixy dust thrown in) can do. He says that the combination may result in nothing short of the power to save democracy from itself. I promise you, Gavin was not sitting at the table when we hatched the idea for Sunlight (though his wife was my communications director when I headed the Center for Responsive Politics, so maybe there’s something in the bloodline).

It was a long-time reporter of Washington’s hidden secrets who said to us "Many members of Congress do what they do, because they can get away with it." We responded, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." And sunlight in the age of the Internet means something far more powerful than it’s ever meant before.

The mere act of opening the kimono changes behavior and changes the balance of power. …So too, the inherent "connectedness" of the Internet is also changing the relationship of money to power as well. Big money is still there (by the bucket-full in this particular election season), but it is being somewhat counterbalanced by so-called Internet campaigns, campaigns that are using the ‘net’s ability to aggregate lots of small things, in this case small contributions.

Nevertheless, today’s innovative (dare I say social) uses of technology have had a liberating effect. Instead of robbing us of rights, they have increased our participation, restoring power to the formerly powerless. It has strengthened our democracy, not undermined it. To paraphrase Al Gore in his (absolutely terrific) book, The Assault on Reason, "a connected citizenry" is our greatest hope. The new internet is all about connections and the open secret effect…

Gavin give us several other examples of how transparency, in the networked age, is changing the power dynamics – in the relationship between funder and grant seeker, passenger to airline (please say it’s so!), and the news media.

Read his whole post.

Transparency can make a difference.