Democracy

Call your representative and senators every day. Here's how.

By | Andre Delattre
Executive Director, U.S. PIRG

There’s a lot unfolding in Washington, D.C., right now, and you may be wondering: “What can I do to voice my concerns?”

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Following the Money 2019

Citizens’ ability to understand how their tax dollars are spent is fundamental to democracy. Budget and spending transparency holds government officials accountable for making smart decisions, checks corruption, and provides citizens an opportunity to affect how government dollars are spent.

State and local governments spend billions of dollars every year on economic development programs in the form of forgone tax revenue and direct cash grant payments to corporations in an effort to stoke investment and job creation in a particular city, state or industry.

A review of economic development subsidy reporting in all 50 states finds that a majority of states fail to meet minimum standards of online transparency, leaving residents, watchdogs and public officials in the dark about key public expenditures. States should shine light on economic development subsidies by requiring the online publication of key transparency reports and inclusion of economic development spending in the state’s online checkbook portal to meet the expectations of citizens seeking information in the 21st century.

Economic development subsidies – be they tax exemptions, credits, or direct cash grant payments – are a form of public spending, but are rarely held to the same transparency standards as other government expenditures.

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Report: Texas gets a “C-” for economic development transparency

Texas received a “C-” for making critical information about how governments are subsidizing business projects with taxpayer dollars readily available to the public online, according to a new report from TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group. Following the Money 2019, the organization’s tenth evaluation of online government spending transparency, gives 17 states a failing grade, while only four states received a grade of “B” or higher.

Texas received an “C-” grade because it lost points for having no laws requiring either a grants report or an online portal database that includes its economic development payments. On the other hand, Texas got full credit for its annually published tax expenditure report.

"As taxpayers, we should be able to see how government spends our money down to the dime," said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund Director. "That includes the billions of dollars that state and local governments give away each year to lure businesses into their backyards."

Report | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Small donors driving 2020 presidential race

U.S. PIRG analyzed the campaign finance reports from 2020 candidates. We found that small donations, and the people who provide them, have a significant voice in the presidential race.

News Release | TexPIRG | Democracy

Sunset Commission calls for sunlight at LCRA

Following a report criticizing lack of transparency at the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), the Texas Sunset Commission examined the agency at a hearing today. The Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) called on the Commission and state Legislature to adopt reforms to LCRA to provide greater transparency.
"Citizens' ability to understand how their tax dollars are spent is fundamental to democracy," said Bay Scoggin, Director of TexPIRG. "Budget and spending transparency holds government officials accountable for making smart decisions, checks corruption, and provides citizens an opportunity to affect how government dollars are spent. It's time for a dose of sunlight at LCRA." 

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

NEW REPORT: Texas still among Leaders in Report on Transparency of Government Spending

The report graded each state’s transparency website from “A” to “F” based on its content and user-friendliness. This year, for the first time, we worked with focus groups to see how well the ordinary Americans could navigate the sites. With that new standard, most states’ grades dropped from our previous report.

 

“When states are transparent about how they spend tax dollars, we all win: the state saves money, it can operate more efficiently and effectively, and citizens can feel more confident in their government,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Ed Fund State Director, “That’s why we are so pleased to highlight Comptroller Hegar's leadership on this issue.” 

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Follow the Money 2018

Texas Public Interest Research Group Education Fund will release a new report, “Following the Money 2018: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” evaluating each state on how well it provides spending information online and assigning them letter grades from “A” to “F.” The report will reveal Texas’ letter grade, compare its public disclosure of spending information to other states, and provide recommendations for improvements.

Transparency in state spending increases accountability, reduces corruption, and promotes greater effectiveness and fiscal responsibility. This is TexPIRG Education Fund’s eighth annual ranking of states’ progress toward checkbook-level spending transparency. Several states have made significant progress since the last report, but the most transparent states maintain user-friendly and searchable transparency sites and provide the public with information about types of expenditures that otherwise receive little public scrutiny, like spending on economic development subsidies and off-budget agencies.

Media Hit | Democracy

State representative facing ethics questions

In what appears to be a clear-cut ethics violations by a longtime state legislator, Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director highlights how there is no way for State Rep. Jim Murphy to represent his constituents as a taxpayer-funded representative and a taxpayer-funded lobbyist at the same time. 

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