How CapCon Uses Transparency Laws to Hold Government Accountable
A Republican state representative recently asked how a private, non-profit organization funds its operations and questioned the group's credentials because it chooses not to make public the names of those who contribute to it.
The group, Sunshine Review, which maintains a website that rates the transparency of state and local governments, was invited to testify at a committee hearing in which Rep. Bradford Jacobsen, R-Oxford, is a member.
During the hearing Rep. Jacobsen challenged the editor of the group's website, saying Sunshine Review should share the names of its contributors. However, doing so would infringe on the rights of private individuals and harm the mission of government scrutiny.
Government transparency laws are an important component of democracy and freedom. Among the most critical are open records laws like Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. For watchdogs like Sunshine Review and Michigan Capitol Confidential, this law is vital to performing our mission. In just the last year, CapCon has used FOIA requests to break the following stories and more:
- The SEIU “dues skim,” which has taken more than $30 million from home health care workers, many of them taking care of their own relatives.
- The multi-million dollar forced unionization of up to 70,000 day care providers.
- A film credit scandal that attempted to use taxpayer money for a studio, which lead to a felony charge.
- Paying millions for school union heads who are paid by districts but do not teach any classes or contribute toward the education of students.
- The public school system that fires less than 0.001 percent of all tenured teachers in Michigan.
- Some teachers caught kissing and assaulting students and using drugs were bought out with severance packages because they could not be immediately removed.
- School districts deliberately misleading taxpayers by claiming funding cuts when spending actually grew every year.
- Michigan government and public school employees who are among the nation’s top wage earners.
- 31 gym teachers in Utica who earn more than the town police chief.
- An illegal teacher union strike being pushed by the state’s largest school employee union.
Like Sunshine Review, Michigan Capitol Confidential is a non-profit organization that favors greater transparency in government. We receive no government money, and wouldn’t accept any if it was offered. Instead, CapCon’s operations are supported entirely by contributions from private individuals and foundations who share our reformist ideas.
These ideas frequently put us on the opposite side of some well-connected and politically powerful special interests, many of which directly or indirectly receive government money, and have an interest in preserving government secrecy.
As seen recently in the politically charged environment in Wisconsin, some of these entities will use extreme tactics against those who oppose their interests .
Also like Sunshine Review, CapCon and its parent organization the Mackinac Center for Public Policy abide by the Donor’s Bill of Rights developed by several national professional organizations for charitable and philanthropic fundraisers. The policy is rooted in a landmark 1958 Supreme Court case, NAACP v . Alabama, in which the court ruled against forcing the civil rights organization to turn over its contributors' names to the state.
Although the potential consequences for our donors may be less severe than for Alabama NAACP contributors in the pre-Civil Rights Act South, we too have earned the animosity of powerful special interests whose past actions provide good reason for our supporters to want their privacy protected.