In the spring of 2010, Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois strode up to the microphones, posed for the cameras, and declared the formation of a new voluntary organization for members of the House of Representatives, the Congressional Transparency Caucus. In his call for colleagues to join the Transparency Caucus, Quigley called for the government to inform the people of its conduct:
The United States government derives its power from the informed consent of the governed. To give such consent, the American people must know what their government is doing…. As Justice Brandeis said, sunlight is “the best of disinfectants.”
Caucus co-chair Rep. Darrell Issa stood by Mike Quigley’s side during that press conference, chiming in with his agreement:
I am excited to be joined by my friend Rep. Mike Quigley in launching a new caucus to promote a greater culture of transparency and openness in government. Sunlight is indeed the best disinfectant. On a bipartisan basis this caucus can bring about real changes to the way our government does business.”
Some of the principles of the Congressional Transparency Caucus are:
1. The American people have the right to public access to all of their government’s information…
2. The American people have the right to analyze their government’s information…
6. The American people have the right to aggressive, independent oversight…. Disclosures… should be published online, in formats that make them easily searchable, sortable, and downloadable. Citizens should be empowered to scrutinize these disclosures and collaborate to expose corruption, fraud and other abuses.
7. We must institutionalize a culture of open government.
In case you were wondering, this list of principles (like Quigley’s call for signatures) was published in a non-searchable pdf format that cannot be copied and pasted, but must be transcribed by hand in order to be shared. The last time a membership list of the Transparency Caucus was published, it wasn’t by anyone in or associated with the U.S. Congress, but rather by an intrepid journalist, Kim Hart, who got her hands on a membership list in May of 2010. An up-to-date membership list of the Transparency Caucus has not been made publicly available since then.
Hart named 18 members of the Transparency Caucus who are still in Congress today. Guess how many of them voted to reauthorize provisions of the USA Patriot Act on February 14, 2011?
Read up on the Patriot Act and you’ll find out that it allows the government to search, spy on and seize the property of Americans without he mustering of probable cause to believe the targets are engaged in criminal activity. That’s a violation of the transparency guarantees of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, designed to ensure that security powers are only used for demonstrable, demonstrated reasons. With sneak-and-peek powers, agents of the government can spy on you without letting you know. That’s not transparent. And annual reports on what the Patriot Act has actually been used for have not been publicly released by the government — every year some reporter has to winkle out the truth, that Patriot Act powers are used more than 99% of the time for reasons other than terrorism. That process is not transparent.
Despite all this, a supermajority of the Transparency Caucus — 11 out of 18 members — voted YES, to reauthorize the Patriot Act:
Yes, the co-chairs of the Transparency Caucus are among the YES set.
A seven-member minority of the Transparency Caucus should be lauded for its consistency, voting to uphold principles of government transparency by voting NO against reauthorization of the Patriot Act. The honorable and consistent NO voters are: