fb-pixel Skip to main content

Don’t blame sunshine laws for mess in Washington

Transparent government may have its drawbacks, but it is a lot better than government conducted in secret. Tom Keane apparently thinks otherwise (“Too much transparency,” Op-ed, July 21), as if what we really need is to go back to the days without open meetings and accessible public records, when our officials operated behind closed doors without the accountability of a watching press and public. Remember how well that worked?

Keane’s conclusion that sunshine laws such as open-meeting and public-records rules are responsible for partisan bickering, gridlock, and mean-spirited discourse is way off the mark. The evidence for this is clear. Sunshine laws apply much more rigorously to municipal governments than they do to Congress or state legislatures. Yet most local communities see a fraction of the vitriol and gridlock of Congress.

There are lots of reasons for the mess in Washington, such as gerrymandering, overuse of the filibuster, the rise of hateful talk-radio demagogues, and even the fact that lawmakers no longer move their families to Washington. Virtually none of it can be traced to sunshine laws. Keane is right, however, that quiet conversation is critical for lawmaking. His prescription of more face-to-face, honest talk is well within the law’s purview. Increased dialogue between people from opposing political camps would do us all good, but to blame the lack of civil debate on transparent government is absurd.


Pam Wilmot
Executive director
Common Cause Massachusetts