Transparency isn’t what keeps government from working

In 2014, a number of big thinkers made the surprising claim that government openness and transparency are to blame for today’s gridlock. They have it backward: Not only is there no relationship between openness and dysfunction, but more secrecy can only add to that dysfunction.

As transparency advocates, we never take openness for granted. The latest example of the dangers of secrecy was the “cromnibus” bill, with its surprise lifting of campaign finance limits for political parties to an astonishing $3 million per couple per cycle, and its suddenly revealed watering down of Dodd-Frank’s derivatives safeguards. And in parallel to the controversy over the release of the CIA’s torture report, that agency proposed to delete e-mail from nearly all employees and contractors, destroying potential documentary evidence of wrongdoing. Openness doesn’t happen without a struggle.

Add to that struggle the arguments of those, such as the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Jason Grumet, who claim transparency is undermining our democracy. He argues that to solve government gridlock it is time to revisit the transparency and accountability reforms that “Watergate helped engender,” claiming there is a “dark side to sunlight.” But there is a mismatch between the problem and Grumet’s solutions. No one doubts that Congress is in gridlock. But the Freedom of Information Act and most other post-Watergate reforms he targets do not even apply to Congress, and no rules prevent private conversations between members of Congress. Continue>>>