COLUMN: Internet can help state’s transparency

Farm Forum

Every year, the issue of transparency in South Dakota state government seems to be revisited. I don’t see how a government of, for and by the people can operate properly without complete transparency.

What is the downside of complete transparency, especially with campaign contributions?

Some people cite the threat to free speech. They say people should be able to use their money to support candidates and issues. Though I partially agree, let’s see the hands of those who believe political money makes better government for everyone.

The real issue is whether free speech extends to secret speech. Should shadowy figures be able to influence government secretly or transparently? If shadowy figures are allowed to secretly influence and even control our state government, I don’t see how this can be a good thing for most of us. Secret contributions lead to secret government.

If people believe in a candidate enough to contribute money, why is it unreasonable to require them to sign the check in full public view?

Let’s require all political contributions to be posted on the Internet within a week of being made. That way we can see if there is a correlation between campaign contributions and the votes and actions of elected officials. If people have a problem with this, they shouldn’t make or receive political contributions.

Every year the governor and the Legislature must settle on a budget. They serve us large numbers stewed in political rhetoric. But few people, often even members of the Legislature, know what the real numbers are. I know because I have asked for the real numbers. It seems the state has a real set of books, the books they show you when you ask for the books and a set of books they show you when you ask to see the real set of books.

The state should be required by law to show all citizens the real set of books on demand. We shouldn’t even be required to ask for them formally. They should be published in real time on the Internet.

I am going to assume that every department in the state government is keeping books on computer. Someone correct me if I am wrong about that. This means that the information is already computerized. It should be a small and inexpensive step to take all of this live on the Internet. This would allow individual citizens to understand and make suggestions for cuts and expenditures.

What is the downside of this? They are spending our money. Why should they be able to spend it secretly? All purchases from vendors should be by competitive bid, so it should be no secret whom the state is doing business with and how much they are being paid. Salaries can be reported as full-time without names attached.

The issue boils down to whether we want government that is open, transparent and participatory or closed, secretive and sneaky? Which do you want?

Lawrence Diggs, Roslyn, is an author and professional public speaker. Write him at americannews@