Financial Transparency Is a Bipartisan Issue

March 5, 2015 2:02 pm PST | Open Data

They may disagree on how much the government should spend, and where the money should go, but conservatives and liberals can agree on one thing: governmental spending should be transparent. That way, it’s easy for the public to determine how their tax dollars are spent. Financial transparency is a true bipartisan issue: not only does exposing spending introduce data into political rhetoric, but it also acts as a mediating force for the public’s growing distrust in government, which is felt across political parties.

A Rising Distrust in Government

Pew studies tell us that distrust in government remains at a historic low, and a Gallup poll from 2014 reveals that Americans believe that the federal government is wasting a whopping 51 cents of every tax dollar collected. That’s more than half!

For anyone working within the government, regardless of party affiliation, the public’s cynical beliefs on government’s inefficiency are not good news. Ari Hoffnung, who helped introduce Checkbook NYC during his term as deputy comptroller of New York City, believes that at least part of this distrust of government spending can be attributed to a communication failure.

Josh Mandel, Ohio State Treasurer, would likely agree: as treasurer, he has worked to increase financial transparency in Ohio, launching Ohio’s Online Checkbook, which allows Ohio taxpayers to easily view the spending of governmental agencies. For Mandel, governmental transparency is an issue that’s as American as “baseball, motherhood and apple pie—who could be against it?”

Can financial transparency repair the rift between government and public completely? Probably not. But it provides a solid start to repairing the trust. After all, exposing how tax dollars are spent is an effective way to educate the public, as well as revealing and ending fraud, waste, and unjustified spending. Just refer to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis who said, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

An Eye on the Money Benefits Both Parties

The rhetoric from politicians is likely familiar: from one side, you hear that spending is out of control, and from another, that there is a lack of investment in vital programs. A resolution for these differing viewpoints is difficult, to say the least. But for Hoffnung, financial transparency “empower and elevate the conversation” for both parties.

For conservatives, a primary function of transparency is to reduce wasteful spending. Mandel believes “government works best when the citizens have the power to be taxpayer watchdogs and keep an eye out for waste, fraud and abuse. Along those lines, my vision is to create an army of citizen auditors to enable you to hold public officials accountable for their decisions.”

But financial transparency is just as important if you approach spending from a different viewpoint, and are eager to see appropriate investment in various programs. Financial transparency can reveal the effectiveness of spending.

As Hoffnung frames it, “Someone who argues that they’re paying too much taxes should be challenged to identify areas to cut. Someone saying government isn’t adequately investing should be challenged to find where revenue will come from and where resources can be shifted around. Financial transparency can inform those questions.”


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