We’re reading about stunning disrespect for the role disclosure plays in democracy, coming from Tennessee’s Governor, who has apparently just exempted himself and his staff from disclosing the amounts of their income.
This shows an astonishing lack of knowledge and respect for one of the primary instruments of accountability in government.
Disclosing personal finances lies at the heart of a functional democracy. And if you doubt that, ask anyone trying to deal with the governments in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or Russia.
Getting public officials to abstain from accepting gifts, or to disclose their finances is so important that dissidents and reformers around the world risk their lives trying to impose these relatively simple disclosures. If the public won’t find out where officials’ money is coming from (in detail!), the temptation to accept bribes or self-deal will win out far too often.
In the disclosure forms where Governor Haslam apparently sees only political inconvenience, and the awkwardness of disclosing apparently vast personal wealth, we see the most basic kind of public trust.
By disclosing details of one’s personal finances, public officials are saying “my official work is untainted by my personal interests, and if you doubt that, you can check.”
Governor Haslam’s Executive Order flouts the public trust embodied in that disclosure system, and places his personal and political concerns over the public interest and integrity of the very system he was elected to lead.
To exempt oneself, as a American public official, from financial disclosure rules, is to empower corrupt and ineffective governments throughout the world, and to undermine those who struggle to improve them.