Push for as much transparency as possible

La Raja’s anti-transparency argument doesn’t hold up

UMASS AMHERST political science professor Raymond La Raja argues in an opinion piece for CommonWealth that transparency in the legislative process is often not a good thing. Say what?

La Raja contends that deep transparency tends to give power to lobbyists to press their demands. “With the slightest whiff that a member might not agree with them, they can mobilize their contacts to help stop potentially good legislation in its tracks,” he said.

Yes they can, but so can citizen activist organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Common Cause Massachusetts, the Environmental League of Massachusetts, Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston, and MASSPIRG — all groups with considerable lobbying muscle.

La Raja argues that “ordinary citizens . . . lack context” [emphasis added] to evaluate the voting records of our legislators.  But yet “ordinary citizens” do just that all the time when they go into the voting booth and “pull the lever.”  Would the good professor like to take that right away from citizens, or impose the next logical step: require citizens to pass a test to see if they have the proper “context” that he is talking about?

LeRaja writes: “Transparency can make our representative institutions less deliberative, with less robust and frank debate about public policy.”  To the contrary, transparency would have the opposite effect — it would make the deliberative process even more robust, with citizens being in a position to question and challenge the actions of representatives on the issues of the day.

No doubt about it — the Massachusetts Legislature is one of the least transparent legislatures in the entire nation, even going so far as to exempt itself from the Massachusetts Public Records Law.  If La Raja were to have his way, this pernicious lack of transparency would continue unabated.

Professor La Raja meet Patrick Henry, who said: “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”

Colman M. Herman is a freelance writer living in Dorchester.