The the Sunshine In

Here’s some good news for citizens who are struggling for open government and less secrecy in the dealings of bureaucrats and business lobbyists. It comes from Missouri and Massachusetts and in it there’s a model other states might emulate.
The Missouri Public Service Commission has issued a ruling requiring trucking companies and utilities that it regulates to submit monthly reports listing any gratuities given or received and “any and all contacts in person, oral or written, concerning or bearing on Missouri PSC business,” with the date, time and purpose of such contacts. Similarly, on their side, the members and employees of the Missouri PSC are now required to file monthly reports on “gratuities, meals, services, gifts, or travel given or received,” and any contacts oral or written between the regulated companies and PSC employees.

The Chairman of the Missouri PSC, Marvin Jones, says these reports, which were strenuously opposed by the companies, are publicly available in Jefferson City, the state capital. If, for example, the federal government had such a requirement, the secret contacts between ITT and the Justice Department last year would either have been made public or, in anticipation of such, would not have been made.

Also earlier this year, Governor Francis Sargent of Massachusetts, issued an executive order requiring most regulatory agencies to report all contacts with regulated companies and gifts or gratuities each month to the Executive Office of Consumer Affairs. There is a possible loophole in an exemption for “routine inquiries or routine reports,” and some agencies resent the order’s being applied to them but not to the Executive office of the Governor. However, such disclosure, available to any interested citizen at the State House in Boston, is a major step forward in charting more openly the murky, behind‑the-scenes influence peddling that goes on.
It’s major step, that is, if there is full compliance. Toward this objective, the agencies, such as banking, insurance, public utilities, milk control, occupational licensing units, alcoholic beverages, were ordered by the Governor to issue regulations no later than July 1, 1972 requiring regulated companies to file detailed reports with them. These reports are to be periodic and “fully disclose the lobbying activities of such licensee directed at such agency, including the official actions sought to be affected” and “all gifts and gratuities given to any official.” Freyda Koplow, the state banking commissioner, says that there has been little follow-through thus far on this part of the Governor’s order. She attributed the delay to bureaucratic changes in the Executive office and legal matters which had to be worked out.

There are indications that a number of agency officials in Massachusetts are discomforted by what they are required to report to the Executive Office of Consumer Affairs, which in turn has staff people who doubt whether the reports are sufficiently complete and candid.

Such hesitations and maneuverings point to the importance of such disclosures in providing people with information about the close fraternization between government and business and the way the telephone and private meetings between the two circumvent the rules which the less powerful have to follow before these agencies.

Citizens in all states should recognize the important tools for reform which such Missouri and Massachusetts directives could open up to them in their areas. These tools for consumer protection and honest, open government will work only if they are utilized by the public. Citizens and citizen groups might wish to ask the Governors and the White House why they do not direct their agencies to make similar disclosures. Sunlight, as Judge Brandeis once said, is a fine disinfectant.

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