Thirty-six million dollars. That's how much President Barack Obama's administration spent in its final year trying to keep the public in the dark, reports the Associated Press.
In Iowa, casinos are looking for cover from public disclosure through legislation that would exempt them from it. Pistol permit holders will probably get shielded from the Freedom of Information Act through yet another exemption. And it took a Supreme Court decision for Davenport city officials to end closed-door meetings that flew in the face of Open Meetings Law.
Transparency is under attack, folks. It's a frontal assault on your right to know. It's a direct challenge to your ability to hold accountable the elected class. It's a reality that, if left unchecked, will result in the greatest ceding of power in decades.
Sunshine Laws exist for a reason. They became vogue after Watergate. They swept through the states, as the public became aware of the widespread grift that plagued every level of government. But each and every year, in statehouses throughout the nation, FOIA is eroded as a hand-out to some monied interest or another.
Unfortunately, the winnowing of public access has become a favorite gift too often bestowed on the well connected.
Right now, any citizen can request a casino's annual audit. They pay for the increased police protection and social services that comes with such an establishment, after all. They're constituents of local and state governments that — as a function of gambling regulation — are in partnership with the casinos themselves.
The citizens, by every right, should have full access to information about a casino's financial situation. Like any public-private partnership, those footing the bill have a right to know what their investment funds.
The industry, however, doesn't like that access. Iowa law bars the gambling industry from funding campaigns. But it sends lobbyists to Des Moines. And, predictably, it gets a legislation that would rob the citizenry of the very information it deserves.
There are signs of improvement in the Quad-Cities, as shown in our Sunshine Week report card published Sunday. Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch and the City Council increased transparency at City Hall, particularly on the open meeting front. If only the people would hold up their end and show up to the now-open meetings. Rock Island County's jump in our ratings coincides with the hiring of a professional, nonpartisan administrator.
But things are getting worse in Washington. Government transparency has dwindled with each successive presidency. Obama pledged in 2008 to be the "most transparent president" in history. Bunk.
The man cracked down on clearly public information. The existence of his drone program — a morally questionable military technique — hit newspapers only because of leaks. He hassled journalists simply looking for the truth on any number of issues. He spent millions in court fighting those seeking access to basic information.
And, now, President Donald Trump is expanding Obama's war on openness. His constant attacks on "leakers" and the media are only the beginning. Just this week, Trump secretly expanded the drone program to permit CIA strikes against suspected terrorists. Again, none of this would have been known without the very people whom Trump loves to vilify.
Too often, "national security" is an excuse to keep the people footing the bill in the dark.
Over all, things look dire for your right to know. Bills are kicking around some statehouses that would exempt lawmakers' emails from FOIA. Staff are embracing untraceable texting apps in order to end-run FOIA.
It's natural for officials to resent laws requiring policy discussions to occur in public view. Openness applies pressure.
But pressure is, after all, the point. It's the only way of assuring it's the peoples' interests that are being served.