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

Elections Confidential

“Elections Confidential” describes how secret donors poured hundreds of millions into the 2012 election through social-welfare groups that are really political vehicles and via shell corporations formed as conduits to hide a funder’s identity. The first post-Citizens United presidential election cycle was bought and paid for by a handful of wealthy donors, but the corrosive influence of money in politics was amplified by the fact that we don’t know who – or what – actually provided much of the funding.

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

Billion-Dollar Democracy

The first presidential election since Citizens United lived up to its hype, with unprecedented outside spending from new sources making headlines.

Demos and U.S. PIRG analysis of reports from campaigns, parties, and outside spenders to the Federal Election Commission found that our big money system distorts democracy and creates clear winners and losers.

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

Distorted Democracy: Post-Election Spending Analysis

A new analysis of data through Election Day from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and other sources by U.S. PIRG and Demos shows how big outside spenders drowned out small contributions in 2012: just 61 large donors to Super PACs giving an average of $4.7 million each matched the $285.2 million in grassroots contributions from more than 1,425,500 small donors to the major party presidential candidates. 

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Media Hit | Democracy

The Daily Show mentions U.S.PIRG Report: Representation Without Taxation

Massachusetts Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren and Jon Stewart discussed U.S. PIRG and Citizens for Tax Justice's new report, Representation Without Taxation, on the January 24th edition of the Daily Show. The report outlines the "Dirty 30", corporations that spent more money lobbying congress than they paid in taxes between 2008-2010. U.S. PIRG and CTJ released the report to mark the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for corporate influence in our government, as well as to highlight the need to fix the tax code to force corporations to pay their fair share.

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

Thirty Fortune 500 Companies Paid More to Lobby Congress than they Did in Federal Income Taxes

With the second anniversary approaching of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case – which opened the floodgates to corporate spending on elections – U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) and Citizens for Tax Justice reveal 30 corporations that spent more to lobby Congress than they did in taxes.

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

U.S. PIRG Calls on Candidates to Denounce Super PACs

The current coordination rules are an insult to American democracy, yet candidates continue to test their luck in weakening them further. If the presidential contenders, all of whom have sympathetic Super PACs, are serious about their objections, then they should publicly denounce their affiliated independent expenditure committees.

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

6 Reform Groups Support the Letter of 25 Representatives in Favor of President Obama’s Proposed Transparency Executive Order

Yesterday Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), and 23 others, wrote a letter to President Obama expressing their strong support for the April 13 draft executive order to require full disclosure of campaign spending and contributions by business entities that seek federal government contracts.

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

Foreign Funds in American Elections

This week we learned that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce could be using money from foreign corporations to fund attack ads in our elections.

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