Sunlight is the best disinfectant
April 12, 2018
This article was published in OCPA's Perspective magazine View Issue
OCPA has long maintained that government transparency is important. (My colleague Trent England explains why here.) Eleven years ago, Stephen Spruiell wrote on National Review Online:
One state-based think tank, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), has adopted another national idea to the state level and thus started a trend of its own. Inspired by the work of Sens. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) and Barack Obama (D., Ill.) on the creation of a searchable online database of federal contracts and grants, OCPA began to push the state legislature to do something similar for taxpayers in Oklahoma. Last October, in an op-ed calling for a state-funding website, Coburn and OCPA vice president Brandon Dutcher wrote, “Many taxpayers…may be aware that their tax dollars have paid for things like rooster shows and ghost employees and $100 car washes, but these things are just the tip of the iceberg.”
Since then, the idea has met little resistance from state politicians in either party. On March 1st the state Senate unanimously approved the creation of the database, and governor Brad Henry, a Democrat, picked up the idea and included it in his State of the State address this year. The idea is gaining popularity in other states as well.
The state database is good as far as it goes, but the more transparency websites the better. Today Dr. Coburn is the honorary chairman of Open the Books, an organization whose aim is simple: “Every dime. Online. In real time.” Open the Books is “doing the work I envisioned when the Coburn-Obama bill became law,” he says. “Their innovative app and other tools are putting sunlight through a magnifying glass.”
In the weeks ahead, OCPA will be writing about some of the more interesting information we discovered at Open the Books. I encourage you to visit the website yourself and write to me with your own noteworthy findings.
We need more sunlight at the state Capitol. In 2015, House Bill 1748, authored by state Sen. Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) and state Rep. Tom Newell (R-Seminole), required Oklahoma state agencies to publicly report not only the amount of federal funding they receive but also the strings attached to that money. The measure passed overwhelmingly in both chambers but was vetoed by Gov. Mary Fallin.
OCPA distinguished fellow Andrew Spiropoulos was disappointed in the governor’s veto. “She’s concerned about the onerous burden these reporting requirements will place on agency staff,” he wrote. “She says that, if you look hard enough, you can find the spending data elsewhere—but she says nothing about where you would find information on the conditions accompanying the spending. It seems more important to her to avoid burdening bureaucrats than to facilitate regulatory relief for our citizens.”
Given the scandal at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (and other scandals we don’t yet know about), we need transparency now more than ever.