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AI (SDXL) generated image: "digital art of storm clouds covering sunshine"

As the legislature seems poised to pass the flawed HB 509, creating a major loophole for would-be unsavory public servants, we should consider what research tells us about the effect sunshine laws have on public corruption.

In a 2014 paper, researchers from Winthrop and Clemson compiled evidence from multiple prior studies, concluding that stronger state level sunshine laws both reduce attempted acts of corruption and increase convictions of corrupt officials. From the abstract:

"We assess the... impact of switching from a weak to a strong state-level FOIA law on corruption convictions of state and local government officials. The evidence suggests that strengthening FOIA laws has two offsetting effects: reducing corruption and increasing the probability that corrupt acts are detected. The conflation of these two effects led prior work to find little impact of FOIA on corruption. We find that conviction rates approximately double after the switch, which suggests an increase in detection probabilities. However, conviction rates decline from this new elevated level as the time since the switch from weak to strong FOIA increases. This decline is consistent with officials reducing the rate at which they commit corrupt acts by about twenty percent. These changes are more pronounced in states with more intense media coverage, for those that had more substantial changes in their FOIA laws , for FOIA laws which include strong liabilities for officials who contravene them, for local officials, and for more serious crimes. Conviction rates of federal officials, who are not subject to the policy, show no concomitant change."

The message here is clear: with weaker sunshine laws, Kentuckians should expect some public servants to be more corrupt and better able to hide their corruption.

The vast majority of public employees are dedicated, honest, underpaid workers that believe in making their state a better place and to whom we all owe a collective debt. No one wants their personal phones or computers. This is a bogeyman invented by the bill's supporters.

What we all want is for our commonwealth to work for the betterment of all citizens. Our sunshine laws are a critical component in ensuring both the press and the public can do their part in ensuring our institutions remain faithful to their purpose: serving the citizens of Kentucky.


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