“This Will Be Our Little Secret …”
One of the most important reasons for having representative government is so that if the people don’t like the way their elected officials are behaving, they can replace them with someone else. This holds politicians accountable for the decisions they have made and the actions they have pursued (ostensibly) on behalf of the people they represent.
In order for this to work, however, it is imperative that the people know what, precisely, is being done by their representatives on their behalf. That is why states and the federal government have adopted sunshine laws requiring the disclosure of information about how public officials have acted in their official capacity.
The Springfield News-Leader reports today, however, that the Missouri House has an internal policy that requires the maintenance of confidentiality concerning staff communications with lawmakers about bills or amendments being drafted. The rule is supposedly intended to prevent opponents of legislation from gaining information that could be used to their advantage. But the House investigation reported in the the News-Leader article suggests that officials are more worried about public scrutiny. Officials are expressing consternation about information leaks regarding the representative responsible for an amendment that relaxes village incorporation requirements for property owners. This anxiety makes it seem that our elected officials really are scared to have their official actions exposed for public inspection.
This secrecy policy like any other policy that allows governments to camouflage their actions from the people they serve is actively dangerous. If public servants don’t want others, whether they be legislators or members of the public at large, to be aware of their official actions or the motives that led to them, it suggests very strongly that those actions or motives should be subject to careful scrutiny. Even if this policy only has status as a "gentlemens’ agreement," rather than an officially adopted rule, it should be abandoned.