On the Topic of Open Government and Open Data


There have been lots of conversations recently — most of them provocative in the good sense of that word — about the success or failure of the open data and/or open government movements. I have just a few thoughts to add that I hope amplify Sunlight’s position.

Sunlight believes in open data and open government not because these are abstract goods, but because we want to make government more accountable to ordinary people and less subservient to well-connected special interests. We think it’s great that more consumer-facing data will be opened up by the Obama administration (aka “smart disclosure”), and we want the “operating system” of government open and free, along with many others. And to be sure, there are many additional benefits to be had from opening up government data including increasing efficiency, reducing waste, creating new business opportunities and empowering consumers.

But we remain insistent that a central if not the core goal of the transparency movement must be to shift power from the few to the many, by making all the information about who is trying to influence the process and what they get out the other end more accessible to all. That’s why we keep a large part of our attention focused on opening up the political influence arena and exposing the lobbying culture, and that’s why we called out (back in September 2010) the inadequacies of the Obama administration’s implementation of its open government directive; why we criticized the extra-governmental crackdown on WikiLeaks; and why we will continue to press both sides of the aisle and the regulatory agencies to force open the exploding world of “Dark Money” super PACs being employed by Republican and Democratic operatives alike.

I’ve been at these fights a few decades now, and I have never been more optimistic. The culture of transparency as an instrument of accountability — by citizens and government alike — is now generally accepted. The strategy of pushing and pulling Washington — and every state capitol and every government in the world — will be done by the tens of millions of people online demanding answers to their questions and who will, eventually, vote based on the answers they receive or don’t. Information is the key to action.