Government Transparency

Shaping A Government Accountable to the People

How our government collects and spends money is critically important. Tax and budget decisions are the most concrete way that communities declare priorities and balance competing values.

Unfortunately, government decisions about how to raise revenue and support public functions often fail to best advance the public interest. Too often, public subsidies, tax breaks or special deals are granted to powerful corporate interests at the taxpayers’ expense. When this happens, taxpayers are stuck with the tab, or public resources and services end up threatened.

It is not possible to ensure that government decisions are fair and efficient unless information is publicly accessible. Likewise, public officials and private companies that receive contracts and subsidies must be held accountable for delivering promised goods and services.

Transparency in government spending checks corruption, promotes fiscal responsibility, and allows for greater, more meaningful participation in our democratic system. WISPIRG Foundation is working to advance these goals on a variety of fronts:

  • Promoting public access to online information about government spending at a detailed "checkbook" level including contracts, subsidies and "off-budget" agencies. WISPIRG Foundation's research finds that states continue to make progress toward comprehensive, one-stop, one-click transparency and accountability for state government spending, but some states are lagging and in all states there are opportunities to expand transparency to include economic development subsidies and quasi-public agencies.
  • Ensuring that companies that receive public subsidies are held accountable for delivering clear benefits or required to return public dollars. 
  • Protecting against bad privatization deals that sell off public assets on the cheap and diminish public control of vital public structures such as toll roads, parking systems and traffic enforcement. 

Issue updates

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Center for Media and Democracy | Democracy

Elections Confidential

Elections Confidential reveals, to the extent possible, the dark side of the post-Citizens United election landscape. Secret donors used "dark money" groups that don't have to disclose their donors, because before Citizens United they weren't allowed to spend on elections in order to hide their identity.

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Report | WISPIRG FOundation and Demos | Democracy

Billion Dollar Democracy

Billion Dollar Democracy is the final edition in our series of reports analyzing the role of money in the 2012 elections. The first presidential election since Citizens United lived up to the hype, with outside groups blowing away previous records for spending. Our discourse got more negative than ever before, with secret organizations allowing anonymous donors to bankroll nasty attack ads. Regular people's voices were drowned out of the process, with big time mega-donors spending millions in their attempt to buy our democracy.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Voters Reject Big Money in Politics, Now It’s Time for Reform

Voters sent a message last Tuesday, showing resounding support for our leaders to take steps to deal with the outsized influence of big money in our elections, including a resolution passed in Eau Claire County, WI endorsing a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United.

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Report | WISPIRG and Demos | Democracy

Distorted Democracy: Post-Election Spending Analysis

New analysis of Federal Election Commission data through Election Day shows that just a few big outside spenders drowned out small donors in the 2012 election cycle. The Supreme Court's Citizens United allows wealthy special interests to amplify their voices far above the average citizen. This will continue the cycle of major donors receiving the greatest political access and setting the agenda for our government in Washington and in Madison, interfering with our government's ability to function in the best interests of the public at-large.

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News Release | WISPIRG | Democracy

Distorted Democracy: Big Money and Dark Money in the 2012 Elections

Outside spending on the Wisconsin senatorial race is the third highest of any race in the nation, at over $30 million. Only the presidential race and the campaign for Virginia's senate seat have seen more outside money pouring in to influence voters. This new analysis of pre-election data from the Federal Election Commission and other sources shows that outside spending in the first presidential election cycle since Citizens United is living up to the hype. With no limits on campaign spending Super PACs and Dark Money groups have used massive donations from a small number of wealthy donors to flood our elections with at least $1.1 billion dollars in outside spending. This new data is an update to the Million Dollar Megaphones report released in September, with new data on the last two months of election spending.

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Blog Post

Simple steps to participate in democracy and preserve your health.

Blog Post

There was no excuse for disenfranchising and endangering Wisconsinites on April 7. Seven months from today, there will be no excuse for unprepared or unwilling elected officials failing their constituents, either.

News Release | WISPIRG Foundation

A new report by the WISPIRG Foundation and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund shows that 77 percent of funding in the 34 U.S. senate races happening nationwide comes from out-of-state. Outside Influence: Out-of-State Money in the 2016 Senate Elections highlights the share of money that candidates, PACs, super PACs, and party committees have raised from outside the state they are spending on. In Wisconsin, the report finds that 61 percent of election funding in this year’s U.S. senate race comes from out-of-state.

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Control of the United States Senate is at stake in the 2016 elections. Out of 34 senate races nationally, the outcome could be decided by just several swing states and a few key constituencies. But there is another deciding factor in this year’s race for the senate: money.

Report | WISPIRG Foundation and Demos

In 2014, large donors accounted for the vast majority of all individual federal election contributions this cycle, just as they have in previous elections. Seven of every 10 individual contribution dollars to the federal candidates, parties, PACs and Super PACs that were active in the 2013-2014 election cycle came from donors who gave $200 or more. Candidates alone got 84 percent of their individual contributions from large donors.

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WISPIRG Foundation is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.