Monday, March 12, 2007

ICPR Supports National Sunshine Week

ICPR joins with others around the country in celebrating National Sunshine Week. Public access to records, especially records that contradict the official story, is a hallmark of democracy. A society that trusts the people to elect their leaders should also trust the people to understand the truth, even and especially when that truth calls into question the wisdom of elected leaders.

Much of the emphasis during National Sunshine Week has been on the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act. While those are two of the most important laws guaranteeing public access to information, they are not alone. Among our other favorites:

* The 1934 Federal Communications Act, which sets policy for the FCC, requires broadcasters to release copies of contracts for political ads to the public. In our experience, most broadcasters in Illinois do so willingly and quickly. But while some make these copies available for free, some charge as much as $1 per page. We hope the FCC will take a hard look at whether such charges are legal or appropriate.

* The 2003 State Employees and Officers Ethics Act requires the Inspectors General to release data on the numbers of complaints received, investigations undertaken and concluded, and matters forwarded to the Ethics Commissions for final resolution. It does not require release of any of the substance of those reports, even brief, redacted descriptions of the underlying allegations or findings. Other public employees and the public that pays for this would all benefit from a broader understanding of what kinds of activities are acceptable and which are not. We hope the legislature will take up measures to improve sunshine in ethics.

Bromides about informed citizens and educated voters aside, the fact is, it's our government. We deserve to know how it operates.