Open Government is a Better Barrier to Corruption [OPINION]
Nearly every time politicians try to “fix” the electoral system, things go bad. Just watch any legislative body enact ethics laws. Or, god forbid, campaign finance.
That’s because anytime you change the underlying rules of the game it can influence one side or the other, or at least the perception of advantage.
So it becomes a mess – every time.
It’s important to keep that in mind, as South Dakota powers that be continue to try and replace their perception of what the citizens of the state “really wanted” when they approved Initiated Measure 22 and Marsy’s Law.
Now we’ve got two new efforts to adjust the rules on the process.
Rep. Mark Mickelson wants to eliminate out-of-state money from financing ballot measures. There’s a general feeling that successful initiatives such as Marsy’s Law, the personal crusade of a California businessman, and IM22 don’t represent our citizen’s real feelings.
Mickelson, a Sioux Falls Republican, unsuccessfully tried to get the Legislature to approve his plan earlier this year. Now he wants to put the proposal on the ballot.
Which is a little ironic given that a task force is examining possible changes to South Dakota’s initiative and referendum process.
South Dakota was the first state in the nation to allow initiative and referendum. It’s served us pretty well it seems. Increasing the necessary signatures, for example, won’t keep out-of-state interests from entering the arena. It will do just the opposite, making it more difficult for citizen groups to gather enough signatures to put a proposal directly to the people.
Nothing good will come from these efforts.
There is a solution, however.
Open up government by making South Dakota the most open state in the nation, rather than the most closed.
That’s where we are now, a barely functioning democracy. We have the worst open records laws in the country.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in South Dakota. That’s a federal law, applicable only to information held by the national government.
The secrecy in South Dakota allows corruption to fester.
The lessons from controversy’s surrounding the EB-5 program and the Gear Up tragedy and subsequent criminal prosecutions, isn’t that South Dakota is corrupt. It’s that the lack of transparency and access to financial information makes it easier for people to steal and lie and get away with it.
The people approved IM22.
The Legislature gutted it.
There was plenty not to like in the initiative – the financing function was just weird -- but it received more votes.
Elections have consequences.
Instead of trying to patch together some sort of replacement, or change the rules for getting on the ballot, make it easier to get the information people need to make a decision.
It doesn’t matter where the money comes from, if we know who really donated it.
It doesn’t matter where the ideas come from, if we know who is proposing it.
And it doesn’t matter what the issue is, if we don’t have access to the records behind it, we can’t make an informed decision.
Lawmakers would be better served having a serious discussion about open records and meetings laws than they ever will mucking around in the rules of the game.