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Leland Yee: Stop the Cronyism and Open Government Doors

Today marks the beginning of Sunshine Week in California to promote government transparency.

Letter to the Editor:

Since 2005, Sunshine Week has acted as a rallying point for Americans to demand transparency and accountability from their government.

As an open government advocate, I was happy to carry SCR 8 in 2011 establishing Sunshine Week in California in order to further these goals. In honor of the occasion, I wish to speak about why I believe these values are important, and to tell you about what I have been able to accomplish in my years in the legislature and what I will continue to fight for.

James Madison, whose birthday Sunshine Week commemorates, said "A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both." While I will likely never rival his eloquence, I share the sentiment.

A democratic society simply cannot function if its citizens are unaware of what their government is doing. How are we to determine if a program or policy is effective without having knowledge of the cost, the participants, and the rate of success? Furthermore, if public business is conducted behind closed doors, what assurance do we have that it is being done honestly and competently?

An example that comes to mind is the Campus Auxiliary Organizations in the UC and CSU systems. These organizations operate at California’s state schools on a combination of public and private money, and after years of trying, finally opened their books due to the passage of my SB 8 last year. 

They are tasked with supplementing California’s Universities by sponsoring professorships and scholarships, while raising funds from alumni. Unfortunately, there were numerous examples of egregious misuse of these funds. The President of Sacramento State and Chair of the Auxiliary Foundation had his house on campus remodeled to the tune of $200,000. A board member at Sonoma State stepped down from the board, and received a $1.25 million dollar loan from it two days later. 

It is clear even to a casual observer that this sort of cronyism is not an example of a government agency acting appropriately, but this is what happens behind closed doors. And that is why I continue to work towards throwing them open.

This year, I am carrying a sizable package of open government bills in the Senate. SB 1000 will subject the California Public Utilities Commission to the Public Records Act, allowing us access to vital information about gas lines and incident reports, making sure we know about potential threats to public safety in our neighborhoods. 

SB 1001 will increase fees paid by lobbyists in order to properly fund our State lobbying database, allowing Californians to know who is attempting to influence their elected officials. SB 1002 will assure that documents made public can be easily searched online, ending the days of pouring over thousands of pages that could often obscure wrongdoing and malfeasance. SB 1336 will assure that information brought forward by whistleblowers can be seen by the public, instead of dismissed in private hearings and never seen again. 

And SB 1003 & SCA 7 that will strengthen the Brown Act, which requires elected officials to conduct public business in public.

All in all, we’re all better off when the public is aware of what our government is doing. Just as it’s the responsibility of citizens to learn about and participate in the political process, it’s our responsibility as legislators to make sure that we are operating in an open manner, that we allow people to see the mechanics of government. Only then can we be sure that our government is truly of, by, and for the people.

- Senator Leland Yee

hutch March 12, 2012 at 02:58 PM
SB 1002 will assure that documents made public can be easily searched online, ending the days of pouring over thousands of pages that could often obscure wrongdoing and malfeasance. We really need this in Pacifica. Most of us have no idea who is getting paid what and there's no easy way to find out.
Brian Ginna March 12, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Leland Yee, Champion of Open Government. Yeah, sure... He is simply a pawn of special interest donors. Nothing more. Please leave San Mateo County.
Bhatman March 12, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Hard to believe someone who sits on a public commission would make such a childish, abusive comment.
d wave March 12, 2012 at 04:20 PM
It would have been interesting to see a link that has the relevant information for our local law makers. Sounds great in principle but I have my doubts we'll even be able to see the calendars for law makers in our districts.
David Carini March 12, 2012 at 04:52 PM
D Wave, what link would you like us to provide?
rushro March 12, 2012 at 05:26 PM
This Matier & Ross story from 2006 perfectly illustrates what you have in Leland Yee. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/10/16/BAG0PLQ5S71.DTL
d wave March 12, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Do you remember the saying, "It's 10:00 do you know where your congressman is". I imagine something like the patch interactive police blotter that would allow me to find all of my local reps (city/county/state/feds) and watch a live RSS feed - view their calendars.
David Carini March 12, 2012 at 06:03 PM
D Wave, I'm not sure if politicians usually have public calendars, and if they would be on an RSS feed-type system. Let me dig around.
d wave March 12, 2012 at 06:06 PM
that's my point - if it is not digitally accessible than it might as well be the mushroom law - not the sunshine law.
David Carini March 12, 2012 at 06:17 PM
I see what you mean. Here at least is a daily calendar of the California State Legislature. http://www.legislature.ca.gov/the_state_legislature/calendar_and_schedules/calendar_schedules.html
d wave March 12, 2012 at 10:09 PM
thanks for the link - but i think what we are owed as citizens is a calendar blocked out by individual representative showing what they actually do in a day - which constituents did they meet with? lobbyists? we are paying them - the info should be ours. this static pdf really doesn't bring any sunshine to the world of california stat politics. more mushrooms ;-/
Andy C March 13, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Leland Yee is for open government about as much as Obama claimed to be. Look what that has given us? We are no better and Mr Yee certainly is not going to do any more that pay lip service to this issue. We get the government that we deserve!
Antonio Catpo March 13, 2012 at 05:12 AM
Are you Brian Ginna, the VP of Corporate Development at AeroCentury Corporation (according to Linkedin)? which special interest donors are you referring to?
David Carini March 13, 2012 at 06:29 AM
This is a really good website to see who is donating to which politician. Most of the data is for US Senators and Congressmen. http://www.opensecrets.org
Mark Weiss March 13, 2012 at 07:17 AM
that is pretty funny. he had some cool rappers at his party on fillmore. i was waiting for him to bust out some lampin lampin like in ghost dog. i was just passing by but hung with them for a few minutes hoping to see a drive by. i was pro-adachi.
Pacifica Index March 13, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Mr. Yee attended last night's Pacifica City Council Meeting and addressed the Council for approximately 10 minutes, speaking primarily about State budget issues as they affect counties and local cities.
Colleen Standley March 13, 2012 at 08:17 PM
I think Senator Lee takes a stand in this county where others will not - and should, too often.

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