Statelight: Transparency in a Box, Pt. 1


I’m excited to announce a new project from Public Equals Online and the Sunlight Foundation. Over the next few weeks and months, we’ll be developing – in large part through public blog posts such as this one – a curriculum, or guide, on how to do state level organizing and advocacy around transparency and open government.

This project was inspired by a partnership with the Roosevelt Campus Network, a group of passionate, policy-oriented students at 86 campuses around the country who wanted to learn more about the way government works and how to improve it. Using this curriculum, they’ll be researching transparency policies in their states, choosing policies they want to see implemented or changed, and advocating to make those policies into reality.

Sunlight members and allies have spent years advocating for open government and have accumulated a wealth of experience, research, and best practices on the subject. This project is an opportunity to share that knowledge while adding another generation to the ranks of the open government movement. In fact, we’ll be writing this in public partly because we want you to help us write it: as we go through each piece of this process, we welcome your stories, ideas and contributions.

The general outline of this Transparency How-To guide will look something like this:

  • Choose your issue
  • Research the practices in your state (or, why it is the way it is)
  • Determine what you want to change (by comparing your state to similar cities/states/countries and finding the best practices on that issue)
  • Choose a specific policy to advocate for
  • Advocate for change!

Transparency and open government are fairly broad terms that cover a wide swath of actionable policies. We’ve chosen just three to begin with: ethics and campaign finance, budget transparency, and legislative data — but there’s many more. A bigger pile of related policy topics, courtesy of Sunlight Policy Director John Wonderlich, includes:

  • budget transparency (which usually focuses on a website, can involve prepared budgets and expenditures/grants/contracts or both)
  • lobbying disclosure (data access, disclosure laws/requirements)
  • ethics disclosure rules (personal financial disclosure forms, waivers, codes, revolving door, etc)
  • – like sites (at both state and local level, data clearinghouses)
  • legislative data access (downloadable bills, schedules, other important materials, etc)
  • legislative procedural access (bills online for 72 hours, votes posted online, etc)
  • legislative ethics (recusals, personal financial disclosures, lobbying disclosure laws, other state-specific problems)
  • campaign finance disclosure (electronic, bulk access, timeliness, etc)

Have any to add? Let us know in the comments.

For now, we’ll be focusing on building this curriculum around just three topics and only on state-level advocacy, but this is just a beginning. Much of the policy and advocacy aspects of this project are scalable to either local or federal levels and we’d love you to share your thoughts, experiences, and resources on the subject. Eventually, we’d also like to expand this program to more local levels to help support some of the amazing projects already happening (i.e. CityCamp). Have you had an experience organizing on a state or city level for transparency? Let us know your thoughts.

Check out our next installment of Statelight: Transparency in a Box here!