2/19/2012 10:32:00 AM EDITORIAL: Transparency and sunlight
Hoosier legislators often are sympathetic to the public’s need for access to information.
In Indianapolis Thursday Steve Key, general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association, updated HSPA members on an HSPA-initiated bill (House Bill 1093) that would allow judges to levy civil fines against public officials who deliberately violate the state’s public access laws. Clearly the fines should come out of the public official’s pocket — not the taxpayers’.
H.B. 1093 passed by a vote of 90-4 and now moves to the Senate.
Casting a “nay” vote, state Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, said it would set a bad precedent to allow public officials to be fined. He added that the fines would be too small to serve as a deterrent.
If the legislation passes, a judge could levy a fine of up to $100 for a first offense and up to $500 for a repeat offense.
Speaking Thursday evening at an HSPA reception, State Attorney General Greg Zoeller, said his goal is “transparent databases” to give the public enhanced access to information as technology improves.
Zoeller said technology now means that everything public should be easily accessible online.
On the national level, The Sunlight Foundation is helping with online transparency regarding “super PACs.”
In the wake of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision and the District Court ruling in the Speech Now v. Federal Election Commission case, groups often called “super PACs” have started providing ways for secret donors to influence elections with large amounts of money.
The non-partisan Sunlight Foundation has drafted a bill that would require real-time, online disclosure of all reports, identification of top funders in each ad, spending reports by registered lobbyists, and electronic filings by candidates and committees with the Federal Election Commission.
The Sunlight Foundation’s bill would help voters know who is paying for candidates’ efforts to win their vote. For example, voters should know if an ad was paid for by a corporation, union or other special interest to whom the candidate will be beholden. More information is at SunlightFoundation.com.
The people’s business must be transacted in an open way or the public will lose trust in government, Zoeller has said.
Whether at the local, state or national level, transparency and “sunlight” help promote trust and citizen involvement — both essential if our republic is to survive and thrive.