Sunshine Week 2023: Shining Light on the Workings of Government

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Growth Depends on Transparency

In an 1822 letter to William T. Barry, James Madison wrote that “a popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps, both.” Over 200 years later, the struggle for open and accountable government continues.

Pioneer Institute is proud to join with the media and others—including The Boston Herald, The Boston Globe, CommonWealth Magazine, Common Cause, and the ACLU—in marking Sunshine Week, March 12-18.

As Pioneer looks toward the horizon, we envision growing prosperity grounded in freedom and opportunity for all. Just as sunshine is vital to the health of our nation’s agricultural heartland, reaping an economic harvest requires an informed public and a press that is free in more than name only.

This year, Pioneer has developed additional capacities to fight for quality education, school choice, economic opportunity for all, and government that is limited, accountable, and transparent. Pioneer’s mission remains to fulfill Madison’s words: “People who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

State Government

Eliminate the governor’s office executive order privilege.

A curtain of darkness fell on the State House when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court published its opinion on Lambert v. Executive Director of the Judicial Nominating Council. Over the last two decades, this 1997 ruling has shielded each of our state’s governors, empowering their respective offices to fulfill public records requests “at the office’s discretion.” In a December interview with WGBH radio, shortly before taking office, incoming Gov. Maura Healey vowed transparency, saying that no one in state government was entitled to a blanket exemption from the state’s public records laws. Healey has since retreated from that position and has yet to prove her commitment to a core principle of a healthy democracy.

The Massachusetts state legislature must be subject to the state’s public records and open meeting laws.

While American government remains among the most transparent and free in the world, public access to information is too often denied or delayed. Even in the “cradle of liberty,” the Massachusetts legislature exempts itself from the definition of “public body” as it pertains to transparency laws. Pioneer believes that the legislature’s exemptions from public records and open meeting laws violate the state’s Constitution.Article V of our state’s Declaration of Rights requires that the branches of government “at all times” be accountable to the people. Restricting the public’s access to legislative meetings and records fundamentally undermines that basic right. Our Constitution vests the Commonwealth’s citizens with the right to “give instructions to their representatives.” The legislature’s lack of transparency negates the public’s ability to exercise this right since access to the deliberations of lawmakers is essential if citizens are to reasonably determine what instructions they should provide to their duly elected senators and representatives on Beacon Hill.

What do you mean the legislature isn’t audited by the State Auditor? They hire their own auditors on our dime?

As has been the practice for decades, the state legislature bypasses the State Auditor and hires its own firm to perform a review of its books and records. That means the public has limited insight into the operations of the legislature because the audit report itself is shielded from public records, due to the legislature’s self-exemption. How can spending more money for an outside firm possibly be in the state’s interest and promote transparency? The State Auditor should audit the legislature and make the results public.

Lawmakers should make access to Statements of Financial Interests easier, online, and anonymous.

Among the 48 states that require Statements of Financial Interests (SFIs), Massachusetts ranks last in making such information available to the public. SFIs are critical for boosting public confidence that legislators and policymakers are acting in the public interest rather than their own. Yet those who seek access to such information must either visit the State Ethics Commission in person with a photo ID or upload a picture of their ID online so the commission can verify the requestor’s identity. Moreover, the Ethics Commission reports the identity of those who access the forms to the filers themselves. Pioneer believes the SFI access provisions contained in Section 268A of the Massachusetts General Laws amount to intimidation to avoid transparency. Massachusetts lawmakers can enhance trust and transparency by amending state law to conform with standards that prevail in many other states—immediate and anonymous access to Statements of Financial Interest.

Massachusetts needs a “state CBO” to assess the costs of legislation with an estimated financial impact of $1 million or more.

Pioneer advocates the creation of a state version of the Congressional Budget Office, an independent office to conduct cost-benefit analyses for any bills that would either raise revenue or cost money with an estimated financial impact of more than $1 million. The office would include an independent financial inspector general limited to a single, six-year term with no possibility of being reappointed. The office would be required to publish financial analyses on its website in a timely manner and include the assumptions behind their work. Such an office, independent of the executive and legislative branches and accountable only to the people, would improve decision-making, accountability, efficiency and public trust.


Pioneer spotlights why Massachusetts should retain admissions standards that have made our voc-tech schools a national model.

Pioneer’s 2022 voc-tech book and toolkit highlighted Massachusetts’ national-model voc-tech schools, which received media coverage across the state and nationally. As part of Sunshine Week and in the interests of transparency and accountability, Pioneer continues to offer fact-based analysis that shows Massachusetts should reverse recent changes to policies governing voc-tech admissions. The changes threaten to weaken standards and undermine achievement while doing nothing to address the backlog of students who are both a good fit for voc-tech education and eager to attend such schools.

It is also important to fully understand how voc-tech high schools work and succeed before considering additional changes such as those sought in a recent complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education by Lawyers for Civil Rights. The complainants fail to offer an accurate picture of voc-tech admissions and student demographics. In fact, voc-techs enroll a higher percentage of low-income students than the Commonwealth’s comprehensive public high schools. And they enroll students with special needs at a rate nearly double that of other schools, while achieving higher graduation rates and minuscule dropout rates. Pioneer continues to highlight the facts surrounding voc-tech schools, which make a compelling case for the state to reverse its recent flawed policymaking regarding voc-tech admissions.


Transparency in healthcare is vital if we are to have a well-informed, healthy, and economically sound society.

The Pioneer Life Sciences Initiative (PSLI), led by Dr. Bill Smith, is focusing attention on abuse in the federal 340B contract pharmacy program, and misuse of the Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY) cost-effectiveness tool. PLSI has built a website, with a 50-state analysis tool, that demonstrates how the 340B program has experienced exponential growth as a profit-making tool for hospitals, straying far from its mission of helping low-income patients. Dr. Smith’s forthcoming book on QALY explains how this tool could harm older patients with rare conditions by restricting access to medications. And PLSI staff have published numerous op-eds addressing current policy issues, including drug price controls and reimbursements.

Transparency Tools

Access our MassWatch transparency tools for a wealth of cutting-edge data organized to enhance understanding of our state’s economy. And for a link to a wealth of state data resources that you can use to learn more about the business of state government, check out our page linking to some of the most useful parts of the website.