Friday, December 15, 2006

Quick! Hide the money!

Governmental transparency is good -- unless it involves legislative salaries.

Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., introduced a bill that would remove all information on House employees from public records....

Wicker’s spokesman, Kyle Steward, said the Web site is what prompted his boss’ interest in drafting legislation. Seward said Wicker plans to reintroduce the measure when the new Congress returns next month.

“While he is an advocate of the free flow of information, he does not think it adds to the public discourse to publish individual staff members’ salaries,” Steward said.

The bill is a direct reaction to LegiStorm, a site that went online a few months ago and allows easy access to, and comparison of, staff salary records.

I understand how he feels. My father was a professor at a big state university. He was particularly prominent in his field, and as a result was one of the highest paid professors at the school.

The university was required to make its top salaries public, and every year our local newspaper published the list, with my dad's name near the top. And every year my dad complained about his pay being splashed all over and talked about. He felt his privacy was being violated for no good reason.

His ire was understandable, but it ignored the same fact that Wicker's bill does: that the people in question are public employees, being paid out of the public purse. And the public's interest in knowing how its money is spent outweighs the privacy concerns of people who have chosen to work for governmental entities.

The same principle is why the pay of a public corporation's top executives are public domain: so shareholders can see how their money is being spent. If a CEO doesn't want his pay to be known, he should only work for privately-owned companies.

Wicker's bill died when the lame-duck session ended, but he says he plans to reintroduce it in the new session. Consider writing your representative to explain why passing it would be a bad idea. The public has the right to know the public's business.

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