The Opacity of “Transparency”

September 24, 2013
posted by Bob Bauer

Arguments about transparency have become hard to follow. Government can demand an accounting of money spent to influence politics or public policy; it can certainly compel disclosure of the paid, direct lobbying of legislators. But this is among the easier cases, after which there is disagreement—and confusion—about what the government has the power to do or members of the public have the right to resist.

David Keating and Senator Durbin had just such a difference of opinion. Durbin had asked the Center for Competitive Politics and other organizations (including the Cato Institute) to state for the record whether they had funded ALEC in 2013, and whether they had supported the organization’s “stand your ground” legislation. See, e.g., Letter from Senator Richard J. Durbin to John Allison, President and CEO of the Cato Institute (August 6, 2012). Keating disputed the request’s propriety. Letter from David Keating to Senator Richard J. Durbin (September 16, 2013). To his mind, the request was an act of intimidation and an abuse of office. Any association with ALEC was for political purposes, and Durbin, no friend of ALEC, was using official letterhead and a call for information to accomplish government intimidation of a political adversary.