Transparency is a prerequisite for a functioning democracy. If we don’t know what our government is doing, we have no ability to meaningfully engage or change it. With among the weakest public records laws in the nation, democracy in Massachusetts is broken. It’s time to fix it.
A bill to modernize the state’s sunlight law is moving in the Massachusetts legislature. The reform package would, among other critical improvements, ensure that people and organizations forced to sue government agencies to obtain records be paid for the cost of their troubles. Absent a guarantee that agencies will have to pay—literally—for flouting legitimate records requests, we are faced with a stark reality: police departments and other taxpayer-funded government organizations can simply ignore public records requests without any fear of real consequences. After all, most people can’t afford to file lawsuits—or pay the extraordinary fees routinely attached to requests in the Commonwealth today.
We shouldn’t have to rely on the goodwill of state actors to access basic information about critical issues such as government surveillance and policing expenditures. The ACLU of Massachusetts is among the few entities in the state that has funds dedicated to taking recalcitrant government agencies to court to shine sunlight on issues ranging from stop and frisks and police spying on peace groups to the militarization of the cops. But we shouldn’t have to spend thousands of dollars to make public information that belongs to the people.
Government secrecy is a cancer in a democratic society. If we don’t know what’s broken, or how, we cannot even try to fix it. It shouldn’t be this way, and it doesn’t have to be.
Help us get past this signifiant hurdle to achieving our goal, to make Massachusetts a more free and equitable society for all: Tell your state legislators to support public records reform.