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Good Government 101: Public’s right to know

November 21, 2011
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

A bit of wisdom attributed to a 16th century philosopher has nearly become clich' in today's 21st century information age: Knowledge is power.

The Internet and widespread, user-friendly technology allow people from around the world to mobilize, communicate and share unfiltered information and ideas like never before. Going digital has revolutionized consumer behavior, the global economy and the public's expectations for information.

The public's right to know dates back to America's founders whose advocacy and altruism planted the seeds of our republic that would create a lasting government created of, by and for the people.

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Senator Chuck Grassley

James Madison, hailed as the father of the U.S. Constitution, served as the primary architect of our system of checks and balances and embraced the rights of the individual, saying, "Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Representing Iowans in the U.S. Senate, I have championed the public's right to know and to protect freedom of information.

Meeting with Iowans in each of Iowa's 99 counties at least once every year for the past three decades helps keep me accountable to the people who elect me to public office. Keeping in touch with constituents whether it's face-to-face or by e-mail, with traditional news outlets or via social media helps me to uphold the public trust.

What's more, I take seriously my oath of office to uphold the Constitution. As an elected caretaker of our representative democracy, I work to nurture and cultivate the freedoms and responsibilities of all Americans.

Transparency, openness, accessibility and accountability are non-negotiable cornerstones of good government that build faith in the three branches of the federal government.Bureaucratic stonewalling and judicial over-reaching foster cynicism and distrust that harm public confidence. In turn, this damages the government's ability to effectively serve its citizens and, for example, could lead to an erosion of voluntary tax compliance.

From City Hall, to the Statehouse, to Capitol Hill, the taxpaying public has a vested interest in the people's business. Taxpayers deserve scrupulous stewardship of their tax dollars and assurance that our system of checks and balances is working to root out waste, fraud and abuse and to protect the integrity of the rule of law.

That's why I have worked year after year to keep the people's business open for public consumption. Most recently, that includes my ongoing oversight of the:

Department of Justice's "Fast and Furious" gun walking fiasco that allowed the illegal sale of thousands of weapons to flow to Mexico;

Department of Health and Human Service's decision to shut down a public website with information on malpractice cases involving thousands of the nation's doctors;

Federal Communications Commission and its attempt to block information from members of Congress and the public about a fast-tracked licensing agreement for a politically-connected applicant;

Securities and Exchange Commission's missteps in its mission to protect investor confidence and the integrity of capital markets, including my efforts to support whistleblowers, tighten the revolving door between investment firms and regulatory and law enforcement, and to protect record-keeping relevant to investigations of wrongdoing on Wall Street.

The public's right to know is a fundamental liberty of citizenship. So whether it's protecting watchdogs and whistleblowers or clearing out bureaucratic cobwebs with stronger sunshine laws, I'm working in Washington to promote access to government information. The taxpaying public pays the bills, and the taxpaying public deserves to know how its government operates.

As James Madison wrote, "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it." That's why I'm committed to encourage, enable and engage the public to, as Madison also said, "arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."



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