Let the sun shine through shadows

Today is the beginning of Sunshine Week 2014. While the Government in the Sunshine Act dates back to 1976, the concept of openness and transparency in government is much older.

For example, James Madison, in a letter dated Aug. 4, 1822, noted the importance of these principles to our fledgling republic:

“A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps, both.

“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

While recognition of the importance of freedom of information and open government is not new, shadows continue to be cast on our governments in new ways.

When the U.S. attorney general – appointed by the president – investigates allegations of wrongdoing by the Internal Revenue Service – part of the administration – there is more than a smidgen of a conflict of interest.

When mass surveillance and data retention precede a request – in a secret court – to examine that data, the presumption of innocence essentially is reversed.

When a private entity runs Ohio’s liquor operations through a subsidiary and sells bonds against liquor revenues to raise money for operating expenses, loans and grants, the entity can be ruled to be beyond the oversight of the state auditor.

But here’s something else that isn’t new: These aren’t issues that only involve journalists. When public officials seek the cover of secrecy, they endeavor to keep the public in the dark.

May the sun shine in.