It’s a tried-and-true adage among investigative reporters that when you’re looking for corruption, the key is to follow the money.
Two proposals signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn last week will make it easier for taxpayers to do exactly that – search online to see how much companies and individuals benefit from their relationships with government.
Those who believe the free flow of information is essential to good government – as we do – should be pleased.
The first measure, House Bill 222, targets municipalities, townships and county governments. Under the new law, all will be required to submit their employees’ salaries for inclusion in a searchable statewide database called the Transparency and Accountability Portal.
The second, House Bill 3934, will require the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to publish online the terms of incentive agreements reached under Illinois’ primary economic development program.
Certainly, there are many good people in public service whose efforts every day make our communities safer, healthier, better places in which to live. Likewise, public-private partnerships can be rewarding for businesspeople and the public at large.
However, when salaries are kept secret, and when details of government’s business partnerships can be kept from public view, it opens the door for abuses.
It is particularly good to see the push for transparency extending to the local, county and township levels of government, where the means and extent of compliance with Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act can vary. Some governments are very open with information; others operate as though they’re a private club whose secrets are for members only. Most fall somewhere in between.
A case in point, a recent Illinois Policy Institute review of Northern Illinois counties found that DeKalb County rated only a D-minus in terms of openness – and only 7 of 26 northern Illinois counties received a grade better than “F.” One of the details the policy institute singled out in its review: There was no available salary information online. (That information can be found on County Clerk John Acardo’s external website. But you’d have to know to look there.)
Illinois must continue to push those at every level of government in the state to be forthcoming with information about public business. These new laws are another step in the right direction.