The value of sunlight on Eclipse Day isn’t blocked from view

Sunrise reflection on the U.S. Capitol. Credit: Wikimedia

By John Wonderlich

I am so excited to see so many people talking about sunlight today! My news feeds are full of people talking about where sunlight’s going to be — and where it’s NOT going to be — later today. As the executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, I spend a lot of time thinking about sunshine and darkness. It’s great to see so many other people thinking about it, too!

Of course, we don’t actually work on the sun. When we say “sunlight,” we’re referring to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ famous quote, using it as a shorthand for government transparency and accountability.

At the Sunlight Foundation, we believe that information is power and when information about government’s work is not readily available to the American public, that power is disproportionately distributed.

Today is a particularly apt day to talk about what happens when there’s not enough sunlight.

Sunshine Week cartoon by Joel Pett

Secrecy enables policies that would not stand up to the light of day and public scrutiny. Our democracy requires sunshine in government, where the governed is informed about what our representatives and civil servants are doing on the public’s behalf.

Secrecy enables fraud, waste, abuse and criminality. Sunshine disinfects corruption.

Reforms that mandate public access to government information online and proactive disclosure of records as structured data have become pillars of democratic governance around the world, including access to meetings, spending, procurement transactions, administrative records and correspondence, enable the public and press to collectively hold government to account.

We haven’t been shy in our assessment of the Trump administration’s clouded record on open government during Sunshine Week or since: this is a White House that has been allergic to transparency, ethically compromised, and hostile to the essential role that journalism plays in a democracy.

Fortunately, open government is about much more than what happens in DC. In 2017, dozens of nations, hundreds of states, and thousands of cities are all experimenting with the unprecedented opportunities and civic uses of modern technology, creating laboratories of democracy with reforms and forms of participatory urbanism. We’re proud to help cities be more open to the people they serve.

A total solar eclipse might be a rare event, but the open government movement’s work to make government more transparent and accountable goes on all year long. We hope you’ll recognize and support the the public servants, organizations, investigative journalists, librarians, researchers, and technologists who make government open to the people it serves.

As you see the sun fall into shadow and then return today, remember how valuable public information is to the public — and then get involved in helping your city, state and federal government be more open to the people it services.

Sunlight Foundation

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We are a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC that advocates for open government.