The Knight Foundation just launched its annual Knight News Challenge, posing the question: “How might we better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections?”
The News Challenge, which closes on March 19, offers grants totaling more than $3 million to innovative ideas to help solve problems around civic participation.
Sunlight President Chris Gates offered his own thoughts on the question over at the Knight Foundation blog, highlighting transparency as key to increasing participation.
From his post:
We believe that more transparency regarding the funding of our candidates and their campaigns can play a major role in restoring voter’s faith in their government, and bringing them back to the table of civic participation.
A key step in raising our levels of voter turnout is ensuring that the public knows who is behind these campaign contributions and the political advertisements they buy. And it’s not enough to get this information months after an election; voters must have access to that information in real time.
Right now, House and presidential candidates are required to file campaign finance reports electronically, making them available to the public right away. But the Senate has stunningly balked at requiring the same level of disclosure for itself. Currently, Senate candidates file their reports on paper, often not even in machine-readable form, leaving the public in the dark for up to several months after an election. By implementing a simple, bipartisan policy such as real-time electronic filing, we’ll not only save taxpayers $500,000 a year, but we’ll give voters timely access to information about who is contributing to Senate campaigns.
Without knowing who’s behind the money, how can we hold our officials accountable for their decisions, both during the campaign and once in office? Better disclosure of campaign contributions will also help give context for congressional actions. A recent Sunlight Foundation study found that between 2007–2012 the 200 most politically active corporations spent a combined $5.8 billion on federal lobbying and campaign contributions and received $4.4 trillion in federal business and support over the same time period. Is there any wonder that voters have doubts as to what interests our officials really represent?
In order to re-engage with the public, it’s time for our leaders to pull back the curtains on the electoral and political processes, and prioritize transparency. Transparency alone is not enough, but it’s the first step in a larger reform agenda.
To read more, or participate in the Knight News Challenge, go here.