Government Transparency

Shaping A Government Accountable to the People

How our government collects and spends money is critically important. Tax and budget decisions are the most concrete way that communities declare priorities and balance competing values.

Unfortunately, government decisions about how to raise revenue and support public functions often fail to best advance the public interest. Too often, public subsidies, tax breaks or special deals are granted to powerful corporate interests at the taxpayers’ expense. When this happens, taxpayers are stuck with the tab, or public resources and services end up threatened.

It is not possible to ensure that government decisions are fair and efficient unless information is publicly accessible. Likewise, public officials and private companies that receive contracts and subsidies must be held accountable for delivering promised goods and services.

Transparency in government spending checks corruption, promotes fiscal responsibility, and allows for greater, more meaningful participation in our democratic system. CALPIRG Education Fund is working to advance these goals on a variety of fronts:

  • Promoting public access to online information about government spending at a detailed "checkbook" level including contracts, subsidies and "off-budget" agencies. CALPIRG Education Fund's 2016 Following The Money report is the seventh annual scorecard of state's online budget transparency. This latest scorecard finds that states continue to make progress toward comprehensive, one-stop, one-click transparency and accountability for state government spending, but some states are lagging and in all states there are opportunities to expand transparency to include economic development subsidies and quasi-public agencies.
  • Ensuring that companies that receive public subsidies are held accountable for delivering clear benefits or required to return public dollars. 
  • Protecting against bad privatization deals that sell off public assets on the cheap and diminish public control of vital public structures such as toll roads, parking systems and traffic enforcement. 

Find a full list of our reports here.

Issue updates

News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Governor's Race Dominated by Big Money

CALPIRG's new analysis shows that big donors have accounted for nearly 98% of all contributions from individuals and businesses in California in the governor's race. 

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Big Money Dominates in Congressional Primaries

Our analysis of fund-raising data from 2014’s congressional primaries examines the way these dynamics are playing out state by state across the country. While some states show markedly more inequity than others, the picture painted by the data is of a primary money race where large donors carry more weight than ordinary Americans. Nationwide, just under two-thirds of all candidate contributions came from the largest donors (those giving over $1,000). And fewer than 5,500 large donors matched the primary contributions coming from at least 440,000 donors nationwide.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Big Money Playing an Outsized Role in California Elections

Primary elections suffer from the same disparity between big money and small money as general elections: even leaving aside Super-PAC-dominated outside spending, candidates relying on small contributions from ordinary citizens are often at a disadvantage compared to those relying on large, often out-of-district donors, or able to self-finance. Our analysis of fund-raising data from 2014’s congressional primaries examines the way these dynamics are playing out state by state across the country.  

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Statewide Student Coalition Kicks Off Voter Engagement Campaign

Berkeley, CA – A student coalition that includes statewide student government leaders from all three California public higher education systems and CALPIRG’s New Voters Project gathered at UC Berkeley on National Voter Registration Day to kick off their youth voter mobilization campaign across the state. At the event, CALPIRG Education Fund released the results of their student survey on voting, The Voting Intentions and Opinions of Students.  

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

The Voting Intentions and Opinions of Students

This spring, CALPIRG’s New Voters’ Project conducted an informal survey of just over a thousand UC, CSU, and community college students, before the June primary. We asked students about their own voting history and intentions, what they thought motivates them and their peers to participate in elections, and what they thought colleges and universities could do to encourage student participation. The survey questions were written to inform our own outreach plans for our non-partisan civic engagement program.

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News Release | CALPIRG | Democracy

Google’s Lack of Political Spending Transparency Threatens Brand, Hurts Democracy

Google Inc.’s lack of transparency in its political spending and its membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pose a threat both to Google’s brand as well as to our democracy, according to letters sent this week by shareholders and citizen groups to Google’s board of directors.

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Media Hit | Democracy

Prop C, LA Measure To Overturn Citizens United, Will Be Voted On By Angelenos Next Week

When Angelenos go to the polls next week to choose the next mayor of Los Angeles, they will be the largest electorate to vote on a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.

Proposition C is a ballot measure urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which says that restriction of political spending by corporations or labor unions violates free speech.

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Media Hit | Democracy

Prop C seeks to reverse Citizens United ruling

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Next week's election will not only decide the next mayor of Los Angeles, but it will also offer Los Angeles residents a chance to influence national policy.

 

Proposition C is a ballot measure designed to draw attention to the big money spent in elections. If it passes, it won't have a direct effect on campaign fundraising, but it will encourage California lawmakers to bring the topic back into the national spotlight.

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Media Hit | Democracy

Cheat Sheet: Proposition C Seeks to Limit Corporations' Influence on Campaigns

The 2012 election season was, by far, the most expensive in United States history.

More than $6 billion were spent on candidates running for local, state, and national offices. The presidential race alone had a $2.6 billion bill. The unprecedented spending trumped the second-most expensive campaign season by more than $700 million.

One can argue that anticipated economic factors, such as inflation, made such exceptional expenditure possible.

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Media Hit | Democracy

Huffman calls for constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United ruling

A constitutional amendment to restore campaign finance laws voided by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision topped the wish list of panelists at a forum Thursday on election reform hosted by freshman Congressman Jared Huffman.

"Amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United may well be one of the most important issues of our time," Huffman, D-San Rafael, said at the forum at Dominican University in San Rafael. He encouraged attendees in the meantime, however, to look for additional approaches for making elections fairer and voting more accessible.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Billion-Dollar Democracy

The first presidential election since Citizens United lived up to its hype, with unprecedented outside spending from new sources making headlines.

Demos and U.S. PIRG analysis of reports from campaigns, parties, and outside spenders to the Federal Election Commission found that our big money system distorts democracy and creates clear winners and losers:

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Budget, Democracy

Transparency in City Spending

New Report Compares California Cities to Other Major Cities Across America

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Budget, Democracy, Financial Reform, Tax

Tax Increment Financing: The need for transparency and accountibility in local economic development subsidies

Tax-increment financing (TIF) has been a widely used tool for municipalities seeking private investment. TIF allows cities and towns to borrow against an area’s future tax revenues in order to invest in immediate projects or encourage present development. When used properly, TIF can promote enduring growth and stronger communities for blighted neighborhoods; but TIF can also end up wasting taxpayer resources or channeling money to politically favored special interests.

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Report | CALPIRG | Budget, Democracy, Tax

Following the Money 2011:

This report is U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s second annual ranking of states’ progress toward “Transparency 2.0” – a new standard of comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility. The past year has seen continued progress, with new states providing online access to government spending information and several states pioneering new tools to further expand citizens’ access to spending information and engagement with government. 

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Budget, Democracy

California Budget Transparency 2.0

The ability to see how government uses the public purse is fundamental to democracy.  Budget transparency checks corruption, bolsters public confidence in government, and promotes fiscal responsibility. 

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