Tranparency in the Election Spotlight
From OMB Watch:
Popular thinking tells us that for any trend, fad or heavily pursued activity, the pendulum will eventually swing back the other way. As we approach the 2008 elections, this may well be the case for government transparency, which, after years of increasing government secrecy, appears to be getting greater attention than ever before.
Elections often seem driven by the hottest or "sexiest" issues of the moment, too often involving more rhetoric and sensationalism than substantive issues of government policy. Most years, government transparency is considered far too dull an issue about the mundane day-to-day operations of government to attract much attention from candidates or voters. But as the presidential primaries approach, there are several indications that this year could include a much higher profile for government transparency as an issue.
The Reason Foundation has spearheaded an effort involving more that three dozen public interest groups to get presidential candidates to sign the Oath of Presidential Transparency. The oath commits signers to running the "most transparent Administration in American history," should they be elected, as well as fully implementing the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA) of 2006. Thus far, three candidates signed the pledge – Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), though Brownback recently announced that he is dropping out of the race. Obama – who co-sponsored the FFATA legislation, which requires a searchable database on government spending – stated, "Every American has the right to know how the government spends their tax dollars, but for too long that information has been largely hidden from public view."
In the 10Questions Presidential Forum, a new experiment in online democracy sponsored by MSNBC and bloggers in cooperation with the New York Times, transparency has become a top issue that site users want asked of presidential candidates. The site allows users to submit video questions for presidential candidates and then has visitors of the site vote on which questions are most important to them. A user-submitted question on transparency is currently among the top two questions receiving votes.
Interest in transparency also extends to Congress, as demonstrated by the Earmark Transparency Pledge. The pledge, organized by the Americans for Prosperity, commits signers to voluntarily disclose online a "regularly updated list of every earmark and/or targeted tax benefit that I request." The pledge effort is supported by the Sunlight Foundation, Taxpayers for Common Sense and OMB Watch.
Participation and follow-through in such transparency efforts by members of Congress could play a larger roll during the next election as some voters pledge to cast their votes for members who vote to make Congress more transparent. Joshua Tauberer of GovTrack.us began a Transparency Vote campaign, in which participants agree to "pledge my vote to my senator & representative in 2008 if they vote for or sponsor a transparency initiative recommended by The Open House Project." The campaign has 273 pledges and seeks to reach 10,000 by January. The Open House Project, a collaborative effort by government information experts, congressional staff, nonprofit organizers and bloggers, has developed attainable reforms to promote transparency in the House of Representatives.