Search This Blog


Weak arguments against new laws confirm their wisdom

When somebody gets what he wants in substance and then still expresses unhappiness in the outcome, it’s worth wondering whether that was the issue at all or if instead the real source of the conflict was more personal in nature, even as such inept criticism confirms the wisdom of the very thing being argued against.

The recently completed session of the Louisiana Legislature featured some far-reaching changes in state policy concerning openness of records in the governor’s office. One new measure requires appointees who give a thousand or more bucks in campaign contributions to the elected official who appointed them to report this. Another by all accounts increases overall the amount of information that legally will be made public by the governor’s office.

Yet somehow these changes have made a presumed advocate of more transparency in government, Baton Rouge Advocate Executive Editor Carl Redman, most unhappy. Redman fulminates that the new requirements for appointee reporting will be “burdensome” on “ordinary people” and the new records laws delay release of information he believes was previously available on budgetary matters that he thinks will be mooted because “special interests” still will be able to get information on the budget through informal means, He also chafes at the continuing restriction concerning the “deliberative process,” meaning that decisions made by the governor using input from his advisers during policy-making may be kept confidential. Let’s analyze the validity of these complaints.

Redman preferred an alternative to the contribution law, one that made the appointer go back, comb through campaign finance records, match amounts to (perhaps thousands of) appointees, and then file a report every time (maybe every day) such an appointee met the criterion. This of course will take potentially hundreds of man-hours with all of the cross-referencing and appointees involved – Gov. Bobby Jindal, for example, has had well over 10,000 people donate to him since he began his quest for this term in office – and bigger government and taxpayer resources to go along with it. By contrast, as noted previously, upon wondering whether an appointee gave in a sufficiently large amount to his appointer, any citizen under the new law can go online to the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program website, after a couple of clicks type in the appointee’s name, and get the result quickly at no extra cost to the taxpayer because it will be the civic and legal duty of the appointee to include this information on his standard disclosure form.

It would seem then that Redman has different definitions than in the dictionary for “burdensome” and “ordinary people” if he believes his preferred method, which increases the size of government and use of taxpayers’ money, burdens the citizen more than the actual law requires. His lexicon also appears to diverge from the public’s at the mention of “special interests” as well. Regarding the transparency laws, he argues that “really influential lobbyists and special interests are well-connected and will get information through back channels,” but fails to inform one of these is the media themselves. To strengthen their arguments, those privy to information they think helps their causes always will seek media outlets to be complicit in its dissemination, in order to gather public support. So Redman suddenly believes the media will stop doing a job they presumably already do for no real reason? If he argues information will get out, he cannot argue that, if it is relevant to public policy debate, that it will not become public if the media does their job.

While the transparency law, as previously noted, could have been improved at the margins, it is instructive to know that the standards used in drafting the new law are used commonly by other states and widely accepted. A good example, and perhaps one that injured Redman’s pride, is the “deliberative process” standard. Initially, Redman testified in front of a legislative committee against the bill, identifying himself as representing the Louisiana Press Association’s views on the matter, among other things on this very matter. As a result of that and other testimony, the “deliberative process” portion of the bill was altered in consultations with its critics, which gained the acceptance of the LPA for the entire matter. Stubbornly, Redman continued his opposition in the next round of committee testimony, sticking to support of an unworkable alternative, even as Louisiana’s newspapers (tepidly) favored the bill, so he now identified his opposition as his only.

The larger idea of “executive privilege” as it is known in the context of the presidency, has a well-established place both institutional and juridical at the federal level. Many others besides the LPA see this new standard defined in Louisiana law as striking a reasonable balance between the public’s right to now and improving the quality of executive decision-making through the ability to receive candid advice unbiased by its potential to become public. Redman may not, but his argument is not shared by those representing his profession and a great many policy-makers and legal scholars, if not the public as a whole.

Given the inherent implausibility of his assertions, one wonders whether Redman is truly that unaware of them, or if the issue to him isn’t so much openness as it is who is on what side of the issue. One wonders whether such a column would have been written if the governor did not have “Jindal” as a last name, or labeled himself as “Republican.” Regardless, the weak criticism offered by Redman confirms the wisdom of the new laws.

No comments: