In the 19th century, Republican fundraiser Mark Hanna declared that there were only two things that were important in politics. “The first is money, and I can’t remember the second.”
Sunshine Week, which is celebrated from March 10-16, is intended to prove him wrong.
Bill Allison, Editorial Director of the Sunlight Foundation, which sponsors the event, declares: “For Americans who want to make sure that their government isn’t for sale to the highest bidder, that first item should be transparency,”
The event is designed to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. That means teaching citizens and members of government about the Freedom of Information Act and how to use it and respond to it properly.
This kind of effort transcends political affiliations. Every citizen should know what factors influence legislation, where funding comes from, and where proposed bills come from. It should be a bipartisan effort.
While the event, now in its 12th year, is national, many of the events of the week are associated with openness in state governments.
The effort was originally launched in 2002 as “Sunshine Sunday” by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors, after the state legislature that year tried to create scores of exemptions to the existing open government laws, writes Jim Lee, Editor, The Carroll County (Md.) Times. “Because of the increased publicity, most of those measures failed,” he adds. Sunshine Week is now sponsored by the American Society of News Editors, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and other organizations, along with help the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Bloomberg LP.
“Increasingly, citizen activists are taking an interest in and learning about their state’s open records and open government laws,” Lee continues. “They are fighting attempts by governments to close off access to records or hold secret meetings, and they are demanding a higher degree of accountability from elected officials. Overseeing government at all levels is not a press right, it is a right of every citizen. And the more citizens exercise that right, the better our government will become.”
Openness is particularly important in state governments, writes Gabriela Schneider, Communications Director of the Sunlight Foundation. “With an increasingly gridlocked U.S. Congress, we can expect policy debates on a variety of important topics to be taken up in our state capitols,” she writes. “It’s critically important to be able to effectively monitor these public policy debates and those who seek to influence them. And in a democracy, citizens have the right to know how their elected officials at all levels consider legislation so they can be held accountable. And in the Internet age, that means having reliable access to this information online.”
The Sunlight Foundation has released an update of its annual Open States Transparency Report Card, which grades states on factors such as completeness, timeliness, ease of electronic access, machine readability, use of commonly owned standards and permanence. The information is based on the Sunlight Foundation’s Open States database.
To help bring attention to Sunshine Week and the value of government transparency, Simplicity 2.0 this week will focus entirely on stories about open government.
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