Survey on Open Corporate Data Ranks Former Soviet Countries as More Transparent than the U.S.

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This week, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) will convene its first annual meeting in Brasilia. The OGP is a coalition of member countries that have made documented commitments to making their government more open and accountable (you can find a list of country specific commitments here). The OGP has five grand challenges, one of which is increased corporate accountability. This is a subject near and dear to our heart, particularly as it relates to those corporations that have interactions with the government, such as with contracting or campaign finance. Today, OpenCorporates releases a new report that surveys the availability of open corporate data in the participating OGP countries (including the U.S.). The results? The Czech Republic and Albania are killing us!

The report ranked the OGP countries in four main areas: Basic online data availability at no cost or registration, an open license, bulk data availability, and the depth of data available. In the U.S., this data is generally available at the state level. It’s surprising how many states don’t think this information should be publicly available at no cost. If you’re asking why this data should be available, check out this World Bank report on how the ability of corporate structures to shield ownership facilitates corruption. Or read this news story on how one family used multiple shell corporations to get around the political giving limits. You could also peruse this report by members of the Federal Reserve Board on how opaque corporate hierarchies make it very difficult to evaluate the financial risk in a global market. Obscuring corporate relationships and ownership structures make it even harder to predict the kind of domino effect we witnessed in the recent financial crisis.

It’s great the OGP picked increased corporate accountability as one of its five challenges, but as you can see from the graphic below, most OGP countries aren’t living up to the ideal. The U.S. is being surpassed by the Czech Republic, Albania and the Slovak Republic (and in a couple of months, the UK). No offense is meant to those countries, but the longstanding democratic government of the U.S. should be in a better position than this.

One step we can take in the U.S. is to start collecting more corporate ownership information than we currently do. Right now there’s a bill in both the House and Senate that would take concrete steps towards solving this problem. Write or call your representatives and ask them to support S.1483 or H.R.3416.

Disclosure: Kaitlin is on the OpenCorporates advisory board

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