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

Blog Post | Democracy

Supreme Court Strikes Down Arizona Law, Protects the Right to Vote

This week, the Supreme Court strengthened our democracy by striking down a burdensome Arizona law that required physical proof of citizenship for voter registration.

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Media Hit | Democracy

USA Today: Make companies disclose political spending

If the Supreme Court is intent on allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of shareholders' money on political causes, the least shareholders can expect is the information they need to raise a stink.

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Blog Post | Democracy

U.S. PIRG Mourns the Loss of Common Cause President Bob Edgar

The movement to create a more equal and participative democracy lost an inspirational and tireless leader this week.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG, PennPIRG | Democracy

PennPIRG to EQT: Elections Are Not for Shale

This morning, PennPIRG, PennEnvironment, Public Citizen, Keystone Progress, One Pittsburgh, Common Cause PA, University of Pittsburgh students and others held a press conference outside gas drilling company EQT’s annual shareholder meeting to call on it to end the practice of spending corporate money in elections.

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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 | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

U.S. PIRG, Coalition Partners Break Record for Comments to the SEC

A record number of people agree: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) should regulate corporate political spending.

As of today, more than 178,000 comments have flowed into the agency, thanks largely to the unique bedfellows in our Corporate Reform Coalition, which includes institutional investors managing a combined total of $800 billion in assets, as well as public officials, legal scholars, good government groups, environmental organizations and more. This is a huge milestone: We have set the all-time record for comments submitted to the SEC.

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

U.S. PIRG Calls on FEC to Allow Campaign Contributions via Text Message

On Monday, U.S. PIRG, along with nine other prominent government reform groups, submitted a comment on a request for an advisory opinion at the Federal Election Commission in support of the agency allowing small-donor campaign contributions via text message in time for the 2012 election.

“Allowing text message contributions could help engage first-time and young voters in the campaign finance system and promote small donor engagement to push back against the flood of big money we are already seeing in 2012,” commented Blair Bowie, U.S. PIRG Democracy Advocate.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Democracy, Tax

Release of New Report: Loopholes for Sale

A new report released Wednesday, March 21 by U.S. PIRG and Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) found that thirty unusually aggressive tax dodging corporations have made campaign contributions to 524 (98 percent) sitting members of Congress, and disproportionately to the leadership of both parties and to key committee members. The report, Loopholes for Sale: Campaign Contributions by Corporate Tax Dodgers, examines campaign contributions made by a total of 280 profitable Fortune 500 companies in 2006, 2008, 2010 and to date in 2012.

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Media Hit | Democracy

MSNBC: "Auctioning Democracy"

Host Chris Jansing and guests Rana Foroohar of Time Magazine, Ben White of Politico, and Richard Lui of MSNBC discuss U.S.PIRG and Demos's "fascinating" new report "Auctioning Democracy: the Rise of Super PACs and the 2012 election" on today's episode of Jansing & Co.

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

Release of New Report: Auctioning Democracy

This Wednesday, February 8, Demos and U.S. PIRG are holding a press call to release a new and comprehensive analysis of Federal Election Commission data on Super PACs, from their advent in 2010 through the end of 2011. This new report, “Auctioning Democracy: The Rise of Super PACs and the 2012 Election,” details FEC data findings, lays out actionable recommendations for all levels of government, and provides vivid new infographics (for use with attribution) that illustrate the damage dealt by Super PACs.

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