What does transparency mean to you?

150 150 Christopher Nelson

Transparency is the key to forcing government accountability. (Photo Credit: Matthew Grant Anson)

Transparency, as it pertains to government, is a term often mentioned but paid little attention to by the general public.

As a technical term, it means “allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen.” It is the opposite of opaque. 

But in this context, it has a more general meaning of “easy to perceive or detect.” As citizens, we want every action of our government to fall under this description. To go one step further, we demand it.

If the now-infamous city of Bell were the example, it would have never gotten to the point of the Los Angeles Times revealing the depth of fraud and corruption among the city officials. The salaries of elected officials would have been public knowledge and those who elected them would have cried foul long before the abuse of power reached the levels that it did.

One week from Monday marks the start of Sunshine Week, a global recognition of transparency efforts and an opportunity for the watchdog organization to issue scorecard reports on local municipalities, states, and countries.

Examples are all around us as to why such a week is necessary. It’s an ideal as a standard but the gap between desire and reality is quite large.

Just this week, the LA Times reported that more than $4 million in independent expenditures have been funneled into the LA mayoral race alone. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law wrote on the importance of disclosure in political campaigns. And our very own State Senator Michael Rubio is a target for a potential investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission for allegedly improper real estate dealings while in office.

These recent events come at at time when California discourse on independent expenditures echoes that of the nation. When Super-PACs like the one Karl Rove headed up this past cycle are given in excess of $1 billion to influence the outcome of an election, especially in a time of widespread economic despair for most citizens, conversations will happen.

California has faced its own struggles with independent expenditures with money coming from Arizona at the 11th hour in an attempt to influence a certain ballot proposition’s fate. And the city of Bell, once a poster child for corruption, is making strides to reform its image into one of an open and transparent city.

We have big plans for Sunshine Week. Clearly this is a big deal to those inside government and those on the periphery; we’d like to expand that circle to the entire state. We will be launching a massive, in-depth tool for local citizens and lawmakers alike to discover information about their local municipal government. We will be issuing a report detailing the state of transparency over all in California. And we will have several other simultaneous, coordinated efforts underway throughout the week. 

Be sure to watch closely as this affects each and every one of us on a daily basis.


Christopher Nelson

All stories by: Christopher Nelson