Grassley's Good Government 101: Public's right to know


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A bit of wisdom attributed to 16th-century philosopher Sir Francis Bacon has nearly become a cliché in today's 21st-century information age: Knowledge is power.

The Internet and widespread, user-friendly technology allows people from around the world to mobilize, communicate, and share unfiltered information and ideas like never before. Going digital has revolutionized consumer behavior, the global economy, and the public's expectations for information.

The public's right to know dates back to America's founders, whose advocacy and altruism planted the seeds of our republic that would create a lasting government created of, by, and for the people.

James Madison, hailed as the father of the United States Constitution, served as the primary architect of our system of checks and balances and embraced the rights of the individual, saying, "Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Representing Iowans in the U.S. Senate, I have championed the public's right to know and to protect freedom of information.

Transparency, openness, accessibility, and accountability are non-negotiable cornerstones of good government that build faith in the three branches of the federal government. Bureaucratic stonewalling and judicial overreaching foster cynicism and distrust that harm public confidence. In turn, this damages the government's ability to effectively serve its citizens and, for example, could lead to an erosion of voluntary tax compliance.

From city hall to the statehouse to Capitol Hill, the taxpaying public has a vested interest in the people's business. Taxpayers deserve scrupulous stewardship of their tax dollars and assurance that our system of checks and balances works to root out waste, fraud, and abuse and to protect the integrity of the rule of law.

That's why I have worked year after year to keep the people's business open for public consumption. Most recently, that includes my ongoing oversight of the:

• The Department of Justice's "Fast and Furious" gun-walking fiasco that allowed the illegal sale of thousands of weapons to flow to Mexico;

• The Department of Health and Human Services' decision to shut down a public website with information on malpractice cases involving thousands of the nation's doctors;

• The Federal Communications Commission and its attempt to block information from members of Congress and the public about a fast-tracked licensing agreement for a politically-connected applicant;

• The Securities and Exchange Commission's missteps in its mission to protect investor confidence and the integrity of capital markets, including my efforts to support whistleblowers, tighten the revolving door between investment firms and regulatory and law enforcement, and to protect record-keeping relevant to investigations of wrongdoing on Wall Street.

The public's right to know is a fundamental liberty of citizenship. So whether it's protecting watchdogs and whistleblowers or clearing out bureaucratic cobwebs with stronger sunshine laws, I'm working in Washington to promote access to government information. The taxpaying public pays the bills; the taxpaying public deserves to know how its government operates.

As Madison wrote, "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it." That's why I'm committed to encourage, enable, and engage the public to, as Madison also said, "arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Chuck Grassley is the senior U.S. senator representing Iowa.

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