Government Transparency

Shaping A Government Accountable to the People

How our government collects and spends money is critically important. Tax and budget decisions are the most concrete way that communities declare priorities and balance competing values.

Unfortunately, government decisions about how to raise revenue and support public functions often fail to best advance the public interest. Too often, public subsidies, tax breaks or special deals are granted to powerful corporate interests at the taxpayers’ expense. When this happens, taxpayers are stuck with the tab, or public resources and services end up threatened.

It is not possible to ensure that government decisions are fair and efficient unless information is publicly accessible. Likewise, public officials and private companies that receive contracts and subsidies must be held accountable for delivering promised goods and services.

Transparency in government spending checks corruption, promotes fiscal responsibility, and allows for greater, more meaningful participation in our democratic system. U.S. PIRG Education Fund is working to advance these goals on a variety of fronts:

  • Promoting public access to online information about government spending at a detailed "checkbook" level including contracts, subsidies and "off-budget" agencies. U.S. PIRG Education Fund's 2016 Following The Money report is the seventh annual scorecard of state's online budget transparency. This latest scorecard finds that states continue to make progress toward comprehensive, one-stop, one-click transparency and accountability for state government spending, but some states are lagging and in all states there are opportunities to expand transparency to include economic development subsidies and quasi-public agencies.
  • Ensuring that companies that receive public subsidies are held accountable for delivering clear benefits or required to return public dollars. 
  • Protecting against bad privatization deals that sell off public assets on the cheap and diminish public control of vital public structures such as toll roads, parking systems and traffic enforcement. 

Find a full list of our reports here.

Issue updates

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

New study shows potential impact of a small donor matching program on 2016 presidential race

Candidates in the 2016 presidential race would see a dramatic shift in their fundraising, and have a powerful incentive to focus more on small donors under a proposed small donor public financing system, according to a new study released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (U.S. PIRG).

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy, Financial Reform

Citi shareholders gathered in NY demand lobbying disclosure

 

NEW YORK, NY - Citigroup shareholders gathered today in New York City for their annual meeting and outrage over Citi’s role in the financial crisis was still palpable in the room.  A major topic of interest was a shareholder proposal that would require the company to disclose its lobbying expenditures to its investors, one of over 100 resolutions on political activity filed this season.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

At Spring Shareholder Meetings, Investors Call for Increased Transparency of Corporate Lobbying and Election Spending

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At more than 100 annual meetings this spring, shareholders will ratchet up the pressure on corporations to disclose information about corporate lobbying and electioneering expenditures so investors can make informed investment choices. Shareholders hope their efforts will not only push these companies to adopt individual disclosure procedures, but also will push the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to protect all investors with a commonsense rule that requires disclosure of political expenditures by all public corporations.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

U.S. PIRG Testifies Before FEC, Calls for Broader Disclosure, Closing Easy-to-Game Loopholes

The FEC held a public hearing today to consider updating campaign finance rules in the wake McCutcheon v. FEC. U.S. PIRG Education Fund's Dan Smith testified before the commission, calling to bring dark money expenditures into the light of day, and close loopholes that let big donors circumvent contribution limits.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Demos | Democracy

The Dominance of Big Money in the 2014 Congressional Elections

In 2014, large donors accounted for the vast majority of all individual federal election contributions this cycle, just as they have in previous elections. Seven of every 10 individual contribution dollars to the federal candidates, parties, PACs and Super PACs that were active in the 2013-2014 election cycle came from donors who gave $200 or more. Candidates alone got 84 percent of their individual contributions from large donors.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Demos | Democracy

"Billion-Dollar Democracy" The Unprecedented Impact of Big Money in 2012 Elections

It took just 32 billionaires and corporations giving Super PACs an average of $9.9 million apiece to match every single dollar given by small donors to Romney and Obama in the 2012 election cycle, according to “Billion-Dollar Democracy,” a new report by U.S. PIRG and Demos. Those small donations amounted to over $313 million from more than 3.7 million individuals.

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

“Elections Confidential” Report Reveals Role of Dark Money Groups and Shell Corporations in 2012

Mystery donors poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2012 elections via dark money non-profit groups and shell corporations, despite widespread public support for disclosure and decades of legal precedent supporting the public’s right to know the sources of election-related spending. A new report from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Center for Media and Democracy found that contributions from phony for-profit corporations accounted for nearly 17 percent of all business donations to Super PACs.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

When Schapiro Steps Down, SEC Should Step Up on Political Spending Disclosure

As Chairwoman Mary Schapiro ends her term at the Securities and Exchange Commission, U.S. PIRG urges President Obama to appoint a chairperson who will prioritize rulemaking that would bring post-Citizens United “dark money” corporate political spending into the light.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Demos | Democracy

Big Money and Secret Spending Distorting Democracy

A new analysis of pre-election data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and other sources by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Demos shows that outside spending in the first presidential election since Citizens United is living up to its hype: new waves of “outside spending” have been fueled by dark money and unlimited fundraising from a small number of wealthy donors. Outside spending organizations reported $1.11 billion in spending to the FEC through the final reporting deadline in the 2012 cycle. That’s already a 200% increase over total 2008 outside spending.

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Media Hit | Democracy

National Journal: Passive-Aggressive Birthday Wishes to the Chamber

"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the poster child for Citizens United.They are the poster child for the unaccountable big money that's spreading secrets and lies through our democracy and corroding our right to self government," Blair Bowie of U.S. PIRG said, adding "In America, in a democracy, the size of your wallet does not determine the volume of your voice."

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