Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Standard Article by Rob Port
Issue: Budget & Spending
If asked about what the most important elements of a democracy are, most citizens would probably tell you it’s voting, freedom of speech, or freedom of the press.
Those are good answers, but there is more to democracy than the presence of a ballot box and the ability to say or write what you want.
What probably wouldn’t be mentioned very often in response to the question is government transparency, and yet our ability to know what the government is doing - not to mention how much the government is costing us - is no less an important element of democracy than speech or voting or a free press. In fact, I would argue that government transparency is perhaps more important than those other things.
Political speech and journalism that is not first informed by the facts is pointless. Voters who cast their ballots without having an understanding of what they’re voting for might as well be picking the winners of a popularity contest.
Information is the foundation upon which representative government is built. “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in a letter in 1789. The obvious implication is that an ill-informed electorate cannot be trusted to self-govern.
Without government transparency, no free society can truly be informed, and an ill-informed society isn’t free. Or, at least, won’t be free for long. This is the reason why I am passionate about government openness and transparency.
I started my professional life as a private investigator, making a living out of finding out facts and information for my clients. Around the turn of the century, like many other Americans, I embraced the new communications medium that is blogging to express my opinions on the internet to an ever-larger audience. I use my skills as an investigator to dig up information about our government and leaders that the public at large isn’t aware of. The information I publish is a large part of what makes my blog, SayAnythingBlog.com, not only the most popular and influential political website in North Dakota but one of the top-ranked political blogs in the nation.
There is a thirst for information about our government, one the mainstream media is not always very good at serving, and I’m happy to help quench it.
For my work on government transparency I was recognized as a “Watchdog” in 2011 by the Sam Adams Alliance, and was given an award for online excellence that year by Americans for Prosperity. Now the North Dakota Policy Council has named me a Policy Fellow in the area of government accountability and transparency.
I am honored to accept this position, and hope to help the NDPC make democracy in North Dakota better by breaking down barriers to public information. We have a lot of work to do on this front because even someone with a great deal of experience can have trouble accessing government records. And it can be an onerous and costly endeavor.
Rob Port is an NDPC Government Transparency & Accountability Policy Fellow.
If the average citizen cannot get timely information about their government without the help of a legal expert, and perhaps more expense than they can afford, then our government cannot be said to be transparent.
I hope that you will join the NDPC and I in this fight to keep our government open and transparent.