No Worthy Argument Against Transparency

“Whether you’re on the left or right, there is no worthy argument against transparency.” Those were the words of then-Senator Barack Obama when unveiling legislation (cosponsored by Senator Tom Coburn) to create a searchable online database of federal grants and contracts. Now his colleagues in Congress have an early chance to show the kind of “transpartisanship” Obama says he wants to bring to Washington.  Today a coalition of 78 organizations, assembled and led by the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU) and OpenTheGovernment.org, urged more accountability and oversight of financial rescue funds in an open letter to Congress.

The signatories include representatives from groups across the political spectrum, including the American Conservative Union, Public Citizen, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Sunlight Foundation.

The letter notes that nearly half of the $700 billion committed to the Troubled Assets Relief Program has already been distributed with very little transparency and almost no oversight – in addition to another $800 billion being spent by the Federal Reserve.

Lawmakers won’t have to start from scratch to rectify these problems. Congress could build upon existing legislation, such as a bill sponsored by Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) that would ban the use of bailout money for lobbying and political contributions. Given the pending vote on yet another giveaway, this one for automakers, Congress can and should find the time to make real inroads in exposing the whole bailout scheme to more sunlight.

“The public deserves vigorous, timely, and easily-accessible disclosure of all details surrounding any government decisions regarding financial market problems,” the signatories conclude. “We ask that you honor this by making sure that robust and effective oversight occurs and that all relevant records are collected and publicly available.”

If Congress won’t muster the will to do so, perhaps this could be one of President Obama’s first Executive Orders. We share his belief that there would be “no worthy argument” against it.