Why Massachusetts Got An "F" On Public Records Access

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Massachusetts gets an “F” when it comes to giving citizens access to public information. (Tim Sackton/Flickr)
Massachusetts gets an “F” when it comes to giving citizens access to public information. (Tim Sackton/Flickr)

It seems as if in Massachusetts, we do have a government of the people, by the people and for the people — except, perhaps, when the people want to shine a light on the actions of their government.

That's the sorry state of Massachusetts public records laws. They are among the least transparent in the country. Here's an example: A reporter for The Boston Globe asked the State Ethics Commission if he could see financial disclosure reports filed by politicians across the state.

Informing the public is the entire point of these financial disclosure forms. But the ethics commission told the Globe that, not only would it take months to gather the documents, but the reporter would get to see them only if the Globe paid the state more than $14,000 in advance. He didn't even ask for copies — he just wanted to see the reports.

Compare that to the fact that at least 29 other states post financial disclosure reports on the web for quick and easy access.

"Instead of a sunshine law, we have, basically, a flashlight with batteries not included," says Gavi Wolfe of the Massachusetts ACLU.

Wolfe was one of many advocates and journalists who testified on Beacon Hill Tuesday in favor of two bills that would substantially update the state's public records laws. But, do the bills go far enough? And how are other states getting transparency right?


Scott Allen, editor of the spotlight team at The Boston Globe.

Catherine Turcer, policy analyst at Common Cause Ohio, which tweets @CommonCauseOhio.


The Boston Globe: Many Urging Mass. To Ease Access To Public Records

  • "Advocates and elected officials pressed for a stronger state public records law Tuesday, telling stories of roadblocks to getting basic public information and arguing that an opaque government is at odds with the essence of democracy."

State Integrity Investigation: Massachusetts Corruption Risk Report Card

  • "Massachusetts passed a strong ethics reform law in 2009, but a culture of secrecy undermines public confidence in government."

This segment aired on May 27, 2015.


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