Analysis of media issues, politics and current events.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, famously said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” He said that based on the belief that transparency is the best way to assure accountability in our private and governmental affairs. Recently, I believe, we’ve seen greater push back on the public accountability and transparency of government officials by government officials. The same people who claim that government is not accountable to the people will turn around and say ” my business is none of yours.” Even when their business as legislators will be determining the course of your business.
These days, it seems the current spin in politics to avoid the sunlight of accountability is say, “don’t shine that light on me, I have sensitive skin.”
After Mitt Romney’s refusal, then Paul Ryan’s refusal, former Bush Administration official Tommy Thompson refused to release his tax returns in his run for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin. When asked by reporters if he would release 10 years of tax returns like his opponent, Tammy Duckworth, he confidently replied,
“I have not been in the government. I’ve been in the private sector,” Thompson said. “The answer is no.”
All this occurs as we’ve recently seen Congress fight to dilute rules that disclose the money and people behind SuperPacs and their support of political candidates and messages. A defense that seems based on the idea that the people who donate to support such groups and messages have a greater right to privacy rather than the public has the right to know who is responsible for the messages they receive.
Though the current Republican candidates have been at the forefront of this “my sources of personal wealth is not of your business” kick, lack of accountability is not partisan issue. It’s a problem for both parties. With each side complaining about it only when it’s a disadvantage. That’s why full disclosure and accountability is important for both parties to follow. In fact critical to survival of democracy.
I believe that what has done the most damage to government in the last 12 years has been accountability-from all our elected leaders. Accountability is what is being quickly lost in politics. Heck, we just had a political “war on fact checkers” last week. An attempt to totally discredit the media’s roles as refs and fact support to enforce accountability. Accountability is very important in politics as it is the market force of government that keeps it running as uncorrupt, responsive and as innovative to the people as it can be. Stalling or waiving financial disclosure and transparency only reduces such forces and makes our political engine more inefficient and more corrupt.
If any politician can’t be measured in anyway that holds them responsible for their actions, they quickly capitalize on their impunity to follow their own desires and interests. Meanwhile voters, now with no way to rein political power, lose control of the political process because politicians are no longer afraid of the voter. As much as I see the TEA party as a bucket of crazy, that is one group that understands this idea quite well. It’s why they have responded by putting the fear of God into their representatives to make them accountable to their demands. But what about those of us who don’t demand measurements of accountability from our leaders?
Hypothetically speaking, without healthy transparency, Former Governor Thompson or Governor Mitt Romney, Barack Obama or any candidate can take money from or get support from the Klan or NAMBLA or the New New Nazi Party. Why not? Shielded from disclosure, the public will never see the money the politician received from such disdainful groups, nor have enough information to see the favor they might have done in return for such a gift. Undisclosed actions that might influence voters-if they knew.
This need for disclosure and greater accountability is even more important now that most politicians’ careers now use the revolving door. Moving from politics, then to the private sector, then back and forth to cash in on their connections and experience. Such an incestuous mix does make their income a valid way to judge influence by industry or special interest, corruption and honesty and integrity on political decision.
But that’s their business, like Thompson and Romney are saying, right?