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Ask the Expert

Signal Photos

 

Our View: Part the clouds over the Capitol

Posted: September 18, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: September 18, 2011 1:30 a.m.
 

State lawmakers have found themselves in hot water recently over a level of secrecy that has permeated the California Legislature for too long.

Though there are many issues that we would all like brought to the forefront, the two issues being highlighted are the lack of disclosure of both official calendars of Legislature members, and the office budgets of lawmakers. These issues are closely linked because they both keep important information from the voting public.

The office-budget information should be readily available to anyone because it shows how lawmakers directly spend public money — our money. Keeping tabs on superfluous spending, such as unnecessary travel expenses, is of public interest, especially when so many voices in the capital are saying how we all need to do some belt-tightening in these lean times.

Now, the calendar information might seem trivial at first glance, but it couldn’t be more important when it comes to openness in government.

The official calendars note which lobbyists our elected representatives are meeting with, and also who they’re not talking to.

It will be quite telling if you take a look at how an Assembly member votes on a piece of legislation after meeting with certain lobby groups with vested interests in the vote.

If, for instance, a vote was approaching for increased taxes on new oil drilling in the state, and Assemblyman X met only with oil-industry lobbyists, and then voted down the tax, it wouldn’t be hard to make the connection that his vote was either bought or swayed by the lobbyists.

That’s not to say that lawmakers can’t meet with oil lobbyists or farming groups or environmental groups or any number of business advocates. It’s their choice to talk to people about only one side of an issue, but it’s our right as voters to know about it.

We, the voting masses, elect these people to do work on our behalf — to use our money, to be informed about matters that are too big for all of us to partake in. So, it’s only right that we know what it is they’re doing and who they’re talking with when acting on our behalf.


There are a select few who buck the trend and occasionally keep the public in the loop. Assemblymen Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, and Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada-Flintridge both went against Legislature policy and released their calendars to the public. This caused a bit of an uproar in Sacramento.


What’s jarring is that these two are being labeled as rebels in the state because they had the audacity to make public what the public should already know.


That in itself is extremely telling about the current state of government. Two Assemblymen reveal what they’ve been doing and who they’ve been meeting with for the last six months, and we consider that a bold move.

There are “sunshine” and open-records laws for local government. Our own City Council can’t even convene in groups of three or more outside of an official meeting, in accordance with the Brown Act. So, why are state lawmakers allowed to partake in secretive dealings and then tell us, the people their ultimately accountable to, that they’re not obligated to disclose their schedules?

We need more transparency in government. Period.

As it’s been said many times, sunlight is the best disinfectant. So, keeping governmental happenings in the light keeps everything clean and healthy.

Let’s just hope that more politicians remember that they work for us, not themselves and not special interests.

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