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

One Hundred Years of Secrets and Lies

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce should disclose the corporate donors behind its electoral advertising, U.S. PIRG, Public Citizen, Business Ethics Network, small business representatives and others said at a press conference today. The groups gathered in Lafayette Square, between the White House and U.S. Chamber headquarters. After the media event, they delivered over 30,000 petitions to the Chamber calling on it to shed light on the funders behind the millions of dollars worth of political ads the Chamber has purchased throughout the country.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Press Conference: Celebrating 100 Years of Secrets and Lies

One of the biggest post-Citizens United dark money spenders in this year's election is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Despite trying to pass itself off as representing mom-and-pop small businesses, the U.S. Chamber's corporate funding has enabled it to become the second biggest outside spender to date and to pledge to spend up to $100 million in races across the country. Yet the U.S. Chamber will not disclose to the electorate the sources of its funding, denying citizens the opportunity to judge the credibility of its messaging. The U.S. Chamber exemplifies the unaccountable secret spending of the post-Citizens United landscape.

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

Million-Dollar Megaphones

Although each major party presidential candidate will likely break previous fundraising records, the big story of the 2012 election has been the role of Super PACs, nonprofits and outside spending generally. Demos and U.S. PIRG Education Fund analyzed Federal Election Commission (FEC) data and secondary sources on outside spending and Super PAC fundraising for the first two quarters of the 2012 election cycle.

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

SpeechNow and RNC Cases Decided in ‘Win-Some Lose-Some,’ Day for Campaign Finance Reform

In a pivotal campaign finance decision today, the Republican National Committee’s challenge to the ban on soft money contributions to national parties was rejected by a three-judge panel.

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

Campaign Finance Rules That Regulate 527 Spending Overturned

A federal appellate court panel of 3 judges has overturned campaign finance rules that limit how some political action committees (PAC’s) spend money in campaigns. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington said that the regulations limit free speech rights to 527s.

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

Citizens United Case Arguments Heard Tomorrow

The Supreme Court will rehear arguments tomorrow for a case that could have dramatic impact on the financing of elections. The case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, was first heard March, but in a surprising move this summer, Chief Justice Roberts asked for the case to be re-argued to consider a broader set of decisions regarding campaign finance law.

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