In 1822, James Madison wrote: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

Today, that notion still holds true, and democratic government continues to depend upon the informed and active participation of its citizens at all levels of government.

For democracy to flourish, government must operate in the sunshine:

  • The public must have access to records documenting the functions of government and to meetings where government business is transacted.
  • Citizens need to have information about the pressures exerted on the policy-making process and guaranteed access to influence that process.
  • Reports containing disclosure by certain high-level government officials of gifts they have received and investments they have made must be available to the public.
  • The public must be able to access reports of expenditures made by lobbyists and money contributed to campaigns for public office.

But since 9/11, the federal government has been removing, restricting and destroying information in the name of homeland security. A fundamental shift is occurring, and the public’s right to know is on the way to being replaced by a “need to know” standard in which the government decides who gets what information.

As a result, citizens are less informed and less able to participate in government. The public is being stripped of its ability to oversee and hold the government accountable, and public trust is slipping.

To learn how the League of Women Voters has been supporting open government that enables citizen participation, click here.

The Power of Information

Laura Rench of Jefferson Township in Montgomery County, Ohio said that information gained from public records was a major factor in stopping the Army from transporting a stockpile of diluted VX nerve agent to a hazardous waste station (owned by Perma-Fix of Dayton) located about a mile from her home.

Records of investments made by the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation have been exempt from public view. In light of the Coingate revelations, the Ohio legislature is considering making those records public. Had the records been public, a newspaper, an employer concerned about rising premiums or a member of the public may have discovered that the fund was investing in rare coins and brought it to the public’s attention.

The Columbus Dispatch obtained a copy of the Financial Disclosure that Secretary of State Blackwell filed with the Ohio Ethics Commission. On April 8, 2006, The Dispatch reported: “Blackwell also owned shares of voting machine manufacturer Diebold last year at the same time his office negotiated a multimillion-dollar contract with the company. He has said the Diebold investment was made in January 2005 without his knowledge and that he first discovered it last weekend. The stock has been sold at a loss, he said.”

See a copy of the Financial Disclosure form.