The American Society of Newspaper Editors dedicate this week each year as Sunshine Week. Its purpose is to remind Americans that public officials must conduct public business openly for all to see.
Sunshine Week coincides with James Madison’s birthday. Madison was the nation’s fourth president. He drafted the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution and became known as the “father of the Bill of Rights.” He believed fiercely that government should not be able to hide its activities from the public it was designed to serve.
And this year is the 47th anniversary of the federal Freedom of Information Act that was passed amid the push for clean government after the Watergate mess.
The Tribune and newspapers across the country work to ensure — as the St. Louis Post Dispatch said in an editorial this week — “that public business is accessible to the public, those who pay the taxes and elect the officials.” It goes on to say “those that work in the public interest must work in the public view.”
Don’t think that this happens without resistance.
The Arizona legislature is considering virtually eliminating public notices by putting them on government web sites instead of requiring independent publishing. A scheduled vote Monday was cancelled, presumably because the sponsor did not have the votes lined up; a second attempt at a floor vote Tuesday was also put off, leaving the bill’s status further up in the air.
At the federal level, Americans submitted more than 590,000 requests for information from its government in 2012 under the Freedom of Information Act. The Obama administration rejected one-third of the requests. According to an Associated Press analysis this week, the Obama administration last year cited legal exceptions more than any administration in history to deny requests for information. It often cited national security and “internal deliberations” as the need to reject requests.
“FOIA is an imperfect law, and I don’t think that’s changed over the last four years since Obama took office,” said Alexander Abdo, an ACLU staff attorney for its national security project. “We’ve seen a meteoric rise in the number of claims to protect secret law, the government’s interpretations of laws or its understanding of its own authority. In some ways, the Obama administration is actually even more aggressive on secrecy than the Bush administration.”
Newspapers will be diligent in exposing government acts done in secrecy whether they are city, county, state or federal officials. It is then up to the voters to toss the rascals out of government when they insist on trying to do business in secret.