We’re No. 7! We’re No. 7!

I want a big foam finger.

Fabled Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once said, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” If that is in fact the case, then the world as a whole is a pretty grimy place, according to the latest edition of the Open Budget Survey.

The biennial report, published by the International Budget Partnership, tracks government spending transparency across the globe. Of the 100 countries assessed in the survey, 77 “fail to meet basic standards of budget transparency,” with the average score a lowly 43 out of 100 points…

the U.S. comes in seventh in the Open Budget Survey’s rankings. As the Washington Post’s Wonkblog explains, “overall, the document is a pretty strong vote of confidence in the federal government’s transparency efforts.”The Wonkblog goes on to say that the U.S. gets knocked down for its lack of a pre-budget statement, lack of details in reviews of prior expenditures and, most importantly, a total lack of a “citizens budget,” which the IBP explains as being “accessible, nontechnical presentations of budget information.”

The U.S. and its neighbors scored well overall, as the Guardian explains, with western Europe and the U.S. averaging75 out of 100 points, while the Middle East and North Africa managed to average just 18 out of 100 points. In a race to the bottom, Qatar, Myanmar and Equatorial Guinea rank dead last.

The IBP gathers its data through a series of 125 questions answered by independent researchers in 100 countries, which account for a population of 6.1 billion, or 89 percent of the world’s population in 2010. And while the survey paints a rather dismal portrait of government transparency in general, IBP states that the study has seen “steady, albeit incremental, progress over the four rounds of the survey since 2006,” with the average score of 40 countries with comparable data sets jumping from 47 out of 100 when the survey began up to 57 out of 100 in 2012.

ProPublica Takes a Look at Obama Transparency, or Lack Thereof

A nice analysis piece from my pal Jennifer LaFleur:

After eight years of tightened access to government records under the Bush administration, open-government advocates were hopeful when Barack Obama promised greater transparency.

Four years later, did the president keep his promise?

“It’s a mixed bag,” said Patrice McDermott, executive director of OpenTheGovernment.org, a consortium of right-to-know groups. “I think they’ve made progress, but a whole lot more remains to be done.”

The rest of the piece is here.

In Case You Missed It….

Dana Milbank took the Obama administration to task for its hollow talk when it comes to transparency this week in the Post. These are the best minds in the business on the subject, and they are right. Goes to show you that secrecy is a bipartisan value.

From the column:

“My administration,” President Barack Obama wrote on his first day in office, “is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.”

Those were strong and hopeful words. Four years later, it is becoming more and more clear that they were just words.

On Monday afternoon, open-government advocates assembled in a congressional hearing room to ponder what had become of the Obama administration’s lofty vows of transparency.

“It’s been a really tough slog,” said Anne Weismann of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “The lack of effective leadership in the White House, in the executive branch, has really made it difficult to have more significant progress.”

“They’ve been reluctant to take positions,” said Hudson Hollister of the Data Transparency Coalition, “and translate that to real action.”

 

 

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Nevada Poll Shows Strong Support for Open Government

There’s strong support among Nevada political candidates to require regular reporting by lobbyists of how much they spend wining, dining and schmoozing state lawmakers, according to a new survey released Wednesday.

The survey conducted by the Nevada Policy Research Institute and the Nevada Press Association also found that many favor penalties for public record law violations and making the Legislature subject to Nevada’s open meeting law.

It also asked if the public should be given 72 hours to review a bill before a vote is taken; if local government union negotiations should be conducted under the open meeting law; and whether the respondent would sponsor legislation dealing with any of those issues.

“Nevada’s citizens have a fundamental right to know how their government is operating and how their elected officials are spending money,” Andy Matthews, NPRI president, said. “Nevadans from across the political spectrum are demanding more transparency from their state and local governments, and this survey is a chance for citizens to examine the beliefs of those who are _ and those who want to be _ elected officials.”

Broadcast Industry, Channeling Their Demons, Fights Transparency

Wow. Just wow. Recall how the great leveler in the wake of Citizens United was supposed to be the transparency of political spending? Well, not so much…

The National Association of Broadcasters is asking a federal appeals court to block a rulepassed by the Federal Communications Commission last month requiring TV stations to post political ad data on the Internet.

In a petition for review filed Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., the broadcast industry group argues that the rule is “arbitrary, capricious, in excess of the Commission’s statutory authority inconsistent with the First Amendment, and otherwise not in accordance with law.”

The association represents, among others, the parent companies of NBC, CBS, Fox and the broadcasting arm of the Washington Post.

TV stations have long been required to keep detailed information about who buys political ads, how much they paid, and when spots run. But the information is currently kept only on paper at stations. The FCC’s new rule, which has not yet gone into effect, would require stations to post the information to a new government website.

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The Intersection of Privacy and Access…

This fascinating and informative post from the wonderful Citizen Media Law Project brings the latest in the ongoing saga of requests for police dashcam videos in Seattle, raising timely issues of law, technology and policing…

A must read.

Delaware Re-Evaluates Secret Juvenile Justice System…

I have long argued that a bit of sunshine would do a great deal of good in the world of juvenile justice, as secretive an institution as exists in American life. Delaware officials might just agree, at least in part. Good for them:

State lawmakers are considering whether to order a study of the feasibility of opening Family Court proceedings to the public.

Open-government advocates have complained for years about the secrecy in which Family Court operates.

Family Court is a trial court that handles domestic relations, juvenile delinquency, and intra-family misdemeanors. Under state law, most Family Court proceedings involving issues such as divorce, adoption, termination of parental rights and custody issues are closed to the public.

But the Delaware Constitution says all courts must be open.

A resolution to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday calls for the creation of task force to determine whether existing laws regarding Family Court proceedings should be modified to reflect a presumption of open courts.

Transparency Has Many Faces. Here is One Well Worth Your Time…

This seems like a heck of a good idea. I am no telecommunications policy guy, but I am a transparency advocate, and I can get behind this idea in about a heartbeat.

From the media reform group SavetheNews:

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In the media reform world, we often say we’re fighting for “better” media. Of course, “better” is the sort of word that begs comparison: better than what? If we’re to demand more of our local broadcasters, we need to know what’s wrong with the status quo.

Broadcasters use the public airwaves free of charge, and in return are supposed to provide programming that fulfills the news and information needs of communities. The Federal Communications Commission requires broadcasters to keep public files detailing exactly how they serve local needs. But these records are generally kept in file cabinets at local TV stations and are not easily accessible. So the pressure is on for broadcasters to put these files online in a publicly searchable database.

The FCC is currently taking public comments on just such a proposal; the deadline for comments is this Thursday, and already thousands of people have urged the agency to adopt the rules. Earlier this month, the Public Interest Public Airwaves coalition, which includes Free Press, submitted four petitions totaling 68,000 signatures to the FCC in support of the rule change.

While the proposal may seem like a small tweak, it’s actually a major proceeding that will have lasting implications on the kind of news and information we receive. Enhanced-disclosure rules would do the following:

  • force broadcasters to reveal how much money political campaigns spend on advertising at local stations
  • require broadcasters to document who is paying for political ads
  • require broadcasters to disclose sponsored “news” segments produced by advertisers
  • reveal whether stations are engaged in “covert consolidation,” an increasingly common practice in which stations merge operations and air the same newscast on multiple stations

And finally, the rules would make broadcasters disclose how much of their programming actually serves the public interest.

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