Tennesseans have two powerful tools for insuring our governments are open and accessible. One is the state’s Sunshine Law, which says the public’s business “shall not be conducted in secret.” The other is the state’s Public Records Act, which requires governmental entities to grant citizens full access to public records.
Every citizen should take advantage of these vital tools. It’s particularly important to do so in an election year like the one we now face.
Negative campaigning cheapens our political system. Candidates and their supporters who spread untruths turn many voters off to the entire electoral process.
Unfortunately, few citizens take the time to do anything about it. Throughout this Sunshine Week, we will emphasize the need for transparency in our government. Open records are a key part of that transparency.
Documents like the voting records of elected officials are open to the public. So is information about those who give to the campaigns of candidates for public office. We believe these records should be expanded, not limited as some politicians have advocated.
Voters should arm themselves with knowledge about the candidates and their positions and insist on holding all parties accountable for spreading sleaze.
You can strike a blow against mudslinging by doing a little research of these public records. Websites like votesmart.org and opensecrets.org can help. Another key resource is the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance’s website (www.state.tn.us/tref), which allows voters to not only research the financial disclosures of candidates, but also those of the political action committees that donate to their campaigns.
These are your public records and these are your elected officials. Every citizen has a right to inspect these documents and every citizen has a right to expect the people’s business is conducted in the open.