On Open Government…


One of the basic cornerstones of every free and democratic society is the availability of information.  Without information, the sovereign rights of the people are meaningless.  Without information, the voter is nothing more than a game show contestant, relying on blind luck to pick the door that has a new car behind it.  The strength of a democracy relies on the knowledge of the citizen.  As Thomas Jefferson wrote to Richard Price, the Welsh political theorist, “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government…”

While information was a rare and precious commodity in Jefferson‘s day, today we live in an ‘information age.’  We hope that our government reflects the wealth of information that we, as voters have at our fingertips.  It is this very hope that is reflected in the growing movement for government transparency. 


In 2006 the US Congress passed the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006.  The President signed it into law less than two weeks after the House and Senate had both passed it with virtually no opposition.  The bill was co-sponsored by forty-seven Senators including John McCain, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and both Senators from Maine.  One might think that this sort of bipartisanship is only possible when there’s a federal pay raise involved.  Instead, the Act sets out to show the public exactly how much money the federal government gives out and to whom.  This information is to be made available online, open for all to see. 


While on the federal level, a detailed breakdown of contracts and spending is sure to be somewhat overwhelming, it seems that a state like Maine may be just the right size.  The Maine Policy Heritage Center is currently working with state officials to create “maineopengovt.org,” a web-based application detailing Maine state spending.  As we approach the launch date of late July 2008, sign up for email notification (link) and check out MaineOpenGov.org for details on what the portal will show, how to use it, and what it means for the citizens and taxpayers of Maine.


Christopher Bea, Intern

Center for Open Government

The Maine Policy Heritage Center