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

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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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Democracy

Coming together, pushing back | Jon Fox

 

Observations from the annual National Conference on Media Reform.

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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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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Budget, Democracy, Tax

California Cities Are Nation’s Best & Worst for Spending Transparency

New report reviews and grades the nation’s thirty largest cities on how effectively they allow the public to track budgets, contracting, subsidies, grants and requests for quality-of-life services.

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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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ABC 7: Does a ballot initiative put your identity at risk?

Does signing a ballot initiative put your identity at risk? Ballot initiatives seem to always be circulating and we are often asked to add our signature, so should we be concerned?

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The San Diego Union Tribune: Dirty politics masquerading as consumer protection

“Ugh. I just got back from the supermarket, and those pushy signature gatherers are back!”

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Media Hit | Democracy

The Bakersfield Californian: EDITORIAL: Political gift-taking stains state's legislative process

If politicians are convinced that they are in no way swayed by gifts of tickets, travel and swag bestowed by lobbyists in a never-ending Christmas morning of influence-peddling, good for them. We aren't.

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Media Hit | Democracy

The Los Angeles Times: Trips, tickets and golf for California lawmakers highlight laxity of ethics rules

Trips to Spain and Argentina, choice Lakers tickets, gourmet meals and rounds of golf are among the $637,000 in gifts that elected state officials accepted last year, many from companies and groups that lobby in Sacramento.

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Media Hit | Democracy

The Sacramento Bee: Bill seeks to curb corporate political spending

Democratic lawmakers took aim Monday at corporate political spending after businesses poured millions of dollars into measures on the California primary ballot.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Look Who's Not Coming to Washington 2005

Large contributions made by a small fraction of Americans unduly influence who runs for office and who wins elections in the United States. Without personal wealth or access to networks of wealthy contributors, many qualified and credible candidates are locked out of contention for federal office—often before voters have the opportunity to register their preferences or hear competing points of view.

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Report | CALPIRG | Democracy

Tying the Hands of States

States have long been the laboratories for innovative public policy, particularly in the realm of environmental and consumer protection. State and local legislatures, smaller and often more nimble than the federal government, can develop and test novel policies to address problems identified by local constituents. If a certain policy works, other states can try it. If the policy fails, the state or local government can quickly modify the policy without having affected residents in all 50 states. Success at the state level then often gives rise to federal policy.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Contribution Limits And Competitiveness

For years, academics, political theorists, and campaign finance reformers have debated the causal relationship between campaign contribution limits and the outcome of elections. Some argue that limiting campaign contributions amounts to "incumbent protection;" others contend that limits make challengers more competitive. This study is the first of its kind to comprehensively examine the states with contribution limits and empirically measure changes in competitiveness.

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