March 16, 2009

Cory Mason: Sunshine in Capitol is still a good idea—especially in the majority

Guest column by Cory Mason

Open Government. Everyone says they are for it. To illustrate the importance of openness and transparency in government, in 1933 Supreme Court Justice Brandeis observed, “Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant.”

This week is Sunshine Week, where we acknowledge the virtue of open government in our democracy. It’s part of a national initiative to open dialogue about the importance of open and transparent government. This session, I am once again introducing a bill (AB 143) that would apply the open meetings law—a foundation of democratic government—to closed door meetings in the Legislature.

On days the Legislature is in session, both parties in both houses of the Legislature split into groups to discuss the day’s calendar. It is in these meetings that most of the real legislative debate occurs. Members suss out their positions, cajole people to a certain view, and reach a general consensus. We employ shuttle diplomacy, devise strategy, and argue passionately for our respective positions. In other words, it’s where the action happens.

In and of itself, this is a useful exercise. It lets members pose questions to each other, discuss possible amendments, and ensures that Legislators are better informed before they create new public policy.

The objectionable part, in my view, is that we close these meetings to public view.

Under Wisconsin’s Open Meeting Law, citizens have the right to watch the deliberations of Government at any level; however, the Legislature exempts itself from this law when we go into our closed door session meetings. The public, the press, Legislative staff, and anyone who is not a state Legislator has to leave the room.

Because I introduced a similar bill as a freshman in the minority last session, I have been asked if I still feel the same way about opening these meetings to the public now that Democrats are in the majority. I continue to believe that transparency is the best policy. If a democracy is to have the trust and confidence of its citizens, the deliberations of its elected representatives must be open to the public.

Now that Democrats are in the majority we have the opportunity to lead in a different and better way—I hope we rise to the challenge. We face the toughest economic climate since the Great Depression, the largest deficit in state history, and the task of sorting out billions of dollars in federal stimulus support. The very least we can do is open all of our debate to public view.

Cory Mason (D—Racine) represents the 62nd Assembly District. He serves on the Joint Committee on Finance & the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources.


  1. Take this as aheads up Corry to buy stamps. This Wendsday Indy Film Wisconsin will be asking the members to recontact you about Film Wisconsin tax credits.
    We really would like to know
    1) Where you stand on the issue
    2) If Doyle is stopping Film Wisconsin because he HATES the LT Governor Lawton so much is he fit to be The Governor of Wisconsin or not?

    And we will be keeping track of who called or emailed you so we can make sure we get the answers that as voters we are owed

  2. StopthemadnessNOW3/16/2009 7:59 PM

    Cory: Thank you for your position on making sure the public's business is done in public.

  3. Oh, the veiled attempt at sunshine. This from the same guy who supported passing a budget repair bill that was created behind closed doors, rammed through the Assembly and signed into law in 48 hours - all without a public hearing.

    The bill changed the business tax codes, changed the mortgage banking regulations, increased taxes on custom software and implemented a new version of the hospital tax.

    A 389 page bill and zero public input. Boy, that open caucus would really help at a time when the public is shut out of the process by the new Democratic majority.

    What a sham...