As far as I know, it’s always been an absolute rule, you do business with the government, you do it on the public record. That’s just how it is. The government is the people and they always have a right to know how their money’s being spent.
Because an informed citizenry is the keystone in the arch of democracy.
The public record has been the taxpayer’s best protection against government criminality – waste, fraud – and stupidity.
But the Supreme Court thinks otherwise. 6 to 3, they went – only Ginsberg, Breyer and Sotomayor resisting – to protect the private businesses that contract with government agencies from scrutiny.
We are not talking about secret formulas here. This is not about anything that could damage the private business if competitors knew about it. That has long been protected from public disclosure.
We’re talking the basics here: goods, services, dollars, budgets, performance reports. Did the contractor fulfill the contract and was it a good contract in the first place?
That’s what a South Dakota newspaper wanted to know about the contractors providing goods for the state’s SNAP (Food Stamp) program. The Argus Leader asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture for their records showing who got paid what? for what? delivered where? and received by whom? USDA wouldn’t give up the data.
The Supremes listened as counsel for the trade association for the grocers, the people who contracted to work for us, for our dime, said all that stuff is “confidential.”
And the Court – Roberts and the “no hopers” Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh were no surprise, but (BOO! Surprise!) Kagan agreed with them. What could she have been thinking?
Certainly not of the welfare of millions of taxpayers for whom the public record of where their money went will now contain only the details the contractor wants to show.
Who did the best job, delivered the most food and got it to places and people in need? Who earned their money and our thanks, and who didn’t? The data that would verify the answers to those questions just went off-limits, they’re “confidential.”
Think for a moment about the past 150 years in America. Consider all the national, state and local government contractors who underperformed, corruptly or incompetently. These are the crooks and fools we know about because journalists or prosecutors could document their doings by checking the public record.
Does anyone think they got ’em all? And that’s how much bad business funded by the public wallet went on when we citizens were protected by access to a credible public record.
Imagine the impunity conferred by the public record denied everything a contractor calls “confidential.” Trump’s High Court has empowered a Thieves Carnival.