Editorial: Let sunshine deep into your gov’t

Published 8:56 am Friday, March 18, 2011

Let the sun shine in.

This time of year, most Minnesotans see those five words as the final battle cry against Old Man Winter. After all, we just sprung ahead.

While we definitely concur, we urge readers to hear “Let the sun shine in!” with a different ear — one tuned into the importance of transparency in your government.

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Welcome to Sunshine Week 2011, an annual effort to remind all Americans about the importance of open government and freedom of information. While journalists and the media feel the impact the most, the truth is access to government information — letting the sun shine in — is the best way to enlighten and empower all Americans.

And in case you forgot, 2010 saw many developments (or lack thereof) that threaten to block the sunshine and keep you, the taxpayers, from accessing public information, especially in a timely manner.

Look no further than the January 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allowed corporations and labor unions to pay for campaign ads directly from their general treasuries. The 5-4 ruling wiped out decades of court precedents and created the potential for deep-pocketed special interests to dominate campaigns even more.

The best response to that? The court itself suggested it when Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: “The government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether.”

Minnesota took that advice to heart and last spring amended disclosure laws. These actions proved critical and beneficial to Minnesota voters in the race for governor. The changes, which were opposed by corporations in a protracted fall court fight, allowed voters to learn before Election Day what groups were funding which ads for (and against) which candidates.

While that’s a good example of successful efforts to maintain and increase transparency, there are many other issues in which the sunshine is not being let in.

Perhaps the two best examples emanate from President Obama himself. Upon taking office, he vowed to expand access to information, but there has yet to be documented evidence he’s made good on that promise. Similarly, the long-debated federal shield law, which would protect sources and the journalists they talk to, remains mired in Congress. And recently in Wisconsin it took a Freedom of Information request to force Gov. Scott Walker to release e-mails sent to Democrats about his controversial legislation.

Let the sun shine in!