Opinion

On fast food and dissidents: Is transparency always good?

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Food and Drink,Timothy P. Carney,Campaign Finance,Super PACs,Transparency

I'm a big fan of transparency. I think we should have instant, total access to the checking accounts of politicians' campaign committees. I think congressmen and their top staff should have to disclose whom they meet with about policy matters — so should top executive branch officials.

Sometimes transparency isn't the best idea, though, argues Megan McArdle at Bloomberg View. "[T]ransparency doesn't always help, and in fact, it can backfire," she writes. Her two examples: calorie count mandates for restaurants, which impose financial costs, could tilt the playing field in favor of bigger chains, and might even encourage people to pig out more.

(Of course, "technocratic" nanny-stater Michael Bloomberg in New York loved such a rule, along with other unproven interventions in his subjects' lives.)

One area where I have mixed feelings on transparency is independent political expenditures. As I said, I think politicians should have to disclose all their donations instantly (and that donations should be unlimited). But I've opposed Democratic efforts to require more disclosure by independent groups.

I understand many super PACs and 527s are really just adjuncts of campaigns, which is problematic, and calls for transparency from these groups. But here's a countervailing concern: There needs to be space in our political system for people to anonymously criticize those in power -- whether it be economic powers, political powers, or the collusion of the two.

So, here's a suggestion: more transparency required of our government. More voluntary transparency by private entities. But some choice within the private sphere over how transparent to be.

P.S. Speaking of voluntary transparency by private citizens, here's my own financial disclosure.

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