Common Cause Massachusetts is dedicated to making government open and accountable.
Since we first started “looking over shoulders” in 1970, Common Cause has been at the forefront of ensuring that government officials are acting in the public interest, not for their own personal benefit or for the benefit of powerful and influential special interests.
We have worked to shine a bright light on public officials and lobbyists who prefer to operate behind closed doors. In our early years we for fought for—and won—the right for residents to observe the inner workings of government. And in the 2000s, we launched a campaign to protect and expand this right by encouraging state and local governments to make more information available online.
The Massachusetts Campaign for Open Government studied the internet presence of all 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts to determine how many posted the following six key public governance records online:
- The governing body’s agenda
- The governing body’s minutes
- Current fiscal year budget information
- The municipality’s bylaws, code or ordinances
- The town meeting warrant
- The town meeting results
These six key records were targeted because they best reflect the actions taken, or not taken, by the municipality’s major governing bodies.
In March 2006, 24 municipalities, or 7% of all Massachusetts cities and towns, had all six of the targeted public records posted on their website. These 40 municipalities ranged in size from Becket, with a population of 1,786, to Boston, which had a population of 559,034.
Less promisingly, 53 communities did not bother to post any of their key governance records online. Maintaining a website with these materials is not only inexpensive, but also provides invaluable knowledge to residents and helps bring Massachusetts government into the 21st century. That’s why Common Cause Massachusetts launched the Massachusetts Campaign for Open Government and worked to dramatically increase the number of municipalities that post the six essential public records online.
Every year for the next 4 years, Common Cause reviewed websites and gave e-Government Awards to municipalities that posted key records. As a result, the number sharply increased each year until we discontinued the project in 2010. At that time 180 communities, about half of the Commonwealth, met our standards—a full 700% increase over our first review.