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Government Transparency Works—And We Need More Of It

July 21, 2014  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

An analysis released two years ago by two professors reviewed the effect that freedom of information laws, or “open records” laws, had on corruption. Utah’s version of this law is called the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), and the study’s authors conclude that laws such as this have “two offsetting effects: reducing corruption levels and increasing the probability that corrupt acts are detected.” This type of transparency has the effect, according to the study, of “reducing the rate at which [government officials] commit corrupt acts by about forty percent.”

These types of laws allow citizens to discover illegal, unethical, or controversial acts after they have been committed, following a paper trail to discover spending, correspondence, or other information that can help bring problems to light and potentially punish the government official. However, another type of government transparency is important, and it helps deter abuse of power before it happens.

The city of Rialto, California, outfitted each of its 70 police officers with cameras beginning in 2012, becoming a leader in the law enforcement community in the use of body cameras by officers. A study of Rialto’s law enforcement practices before and after the implementation of these recording devices produced an astounding result: public complaints against officers dropped by 88%, and the use of force by officers fell by 60%.

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Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste: Happy Sedition Act Day!

July 14, 2014  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste, it’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before.”—Rahm Emanuel

Following Rahm’s rule for expanding government power, 216 years ago today, the US Congress, controlled by the Federalist party, and on the ninth anniversary of the start of the French Revolution, passed An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes against the United Statesalso known as the “Sedition Act.” The law made it unlawful to “combine or conspire together to oppose any measure of the government of the United States.” It also restricted speech that was critical of the federal government in the name of protecting national security. While the Federalists were concerned about the threat of revolution in the United States following the example in France and the possibility of war with France following the diplomatic snafu of the XYZ affair, most historians agree that a driving force behind the act was to suppress Democratic-Republican party opposition to the Federalist-controlled government. Such an act would have been unthinkable ten years earlier but on the backdrop of political turmoil and dubious national security claims, Federalists were able to expand central authority to neuter opposition.

Many Democratic-Republicans supported France during the revolution and some sympathized with the sentiments of the revolutionaries. They also opposed the Federalist policies that led to high levels of national debt, a standing national army, government-subsidized monopolies, and the recent levying of the first national tax in the form of the whiskey tax of 1791. In 1791 the national debt stood at $1.84 billion in 2009 dollars and accounted for 38% of GDP at the time—the highest relative debt level the country would see until the Great Depression. Frustration at economic policies was exacerbated by Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s central planning ideas for the subsidization of the manufacturing industry. Opposition to federal power only increased at the thought of a federal force of 12,950 troops raised by President Washington to quell the Whisky Rebellion. It was on this backdrop that political opposition to the Federalists was at a fever pitch.

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Comparing the Declaration’s Grievances to Our Own

July 2, 2014  |  Posted in: Blog  |  3 comments

Today, July 2, is the anniversary of America’s independence. Though the 4th has been (wrongly) given the distinction, it was on this date in 1776 that the Second Continental Congress voted to approve independence from Britain.

If you haven’t done so lately, consider reading the Declaration of Independence with family or friends and discuss some of its key statements. It’s important we move beyond a superficial celebration and make more meaningful our honoring of what transpired on that fateful day.

Many who read the document skip the middle section, in which the document’s signers listed the “repeated injuries and usurpations” which they alleged were an attempt to establish an “absolute tyranny” over them. “To prove this,” they wrote, “let facts be submitted to a candid world.” And then proceeded the list of 18 grievances for which secession was deemed justified.

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Fourth Amendment Forum Report

June 23, 2014  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

Last week was our first Fourth Amendment Forum — a new, annual event we’ll be holding going forward along with ACLU Utah and the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The purpose of this event is to discuss new laws and court rulings affecting 4th amendment issues, and more broadly, the balance between law enforcement and civil liberties.

Panelists for this year’s forum included Attorney General Sean Reyes, his chief of staff and general counsel Parker Douglas, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy (and president of the Utah Sheriffs Association), Chris Gebhardt (a two-time SWAT team leader), and Kara Dansky, a staff attorney with ACLU national focused on police militarization issues. Below is the video:

Our photographer also captured a variety of fun pictures of the event. Click here to view the album.

Get More Bang For Your Political Buck: Join Us!

June 10, 2014  |  Posted in: Blog  |  2 comments

I was recently speaking with a very politically active friend who has served in key, influential decision-making positions within the Republican Party. We both cynically remarked in the past how difficult it is to move the needle within the party system (note: Libertas Institute is politically neutral and not affiliated with any specific party or its platform.). We discussed how politics always ended up trumping principle, and re-election had become the end in itself, rather than the means to political change.  As we spoke he conceded that his time could probably be better allocated fighting for liberty within an organization dedicated to that ideal. I couldn’t agree more.

I have spent my entire adult life involved, in some respect, in the political process. I have served in precincts, as a state delegate, fundraiser, and volunteer for different candidates or causes… and I’ve always voted.  In none of these endeavors have I received as much satisfaction as in my involvement with Libertas Institute.  If you’re wondering why, it’s all about the return on investment.  Do you ever wonder why someone would spend millions of dollars trying to get elected to a position that lasts for a couple years and pays a fraction of the amount spent to get elected?  If not for pride, most aspiring politicians would realize that the best bang for the buck is in lobbying.

A 2009 University of Kansas study found that lobbying efforts netted firms a 22,000% return on investment. This is the sort of thing that drives regular folks crazy.  It’s understandable, then, to see corporations pour money into PACs and K-Street lobbyists in a bid for political favors, contracts, or tax breaks—it’s their most lucrative investment!  Over the last five years the sugar industry spent $50 million on lobbying efforts, which seems like a lot until you see the $278 million spent last year alone in direct government aid to sugar companies.

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