Pioneer Public Interest Law Center (PPILC) is a leading voice to protect our first amendment rights and to advance open and accountable government in New England. First amendment rights and government transparency go hand in hand. To be a truly free people, the public deserves a thorough account of how public funds are spent and how governmental decisions are made.
To form opinions, citizens ought to have access to what government is doing – and ample information made available to them. Transparency is key to an accountable public sector and a diligent electorate. In turn, an engaged citizenry is essential to a healthy democracy. If public input is sought only after minds have been made up and so called public meetings become explanations of what will happen rather than essential components of the decision-making process, the people have lost their power. PPILC wholeheartedly disagrees with legislative and bureaucratic attempts to limit the public’s ability to better understand the actions of all three branches of government. While it may be expedient for government officials to exclude the public from its doings, it undermines democracy and erodes public trust.
Public records and open meeting laws, together with “sunshine laws,” were passed to give the public insight into how government policy is created and, in this way, to hold governments accountable. At its most basic, transparency starts with public records and open meeting laws, which offer a window into appointed officials’ decision-making and create a trail by which to audit and, ultimately, measure performance. Exemptions from these laws should be few. In practice, though, exemptions are claimed far too often. Enforcement of the laws must be strict and consistent. Laws that are on the books but lack enforcement create only the semblance of transparency.
To protect the public rights, PPILC will litigate to ensure that our first amendment rights are protected, that public records requests are enforced to the extent of the law and that government meetings are open to the public. PPILC will also litigate, under provisions of the U.S and states’ constitutions, to restrict certain exemptions from these laws that are abhorrent to a free and engaged society.