Doe Versus Reed: Open Government on the Line

Accountability in our Government must remain open to public scrutiny. The Supreme court has an obligation to protect the rights of petitioners who wanted an honest electoral system in our state.
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On Wednesday, Washington State Attorney General, Rob McKenna, is going to argue before the United States Supreme Court to defend the public petition process. Over 20 states, dozens of journalist's organizations, and government watch dog groups, have signed on in support of our public disclosure laws, representing both conservative and progressive interests.

In Washington, voters have the opportunity to act as citizen legislators. When it comes to a referendum, it's a two step process; first a fairly small number of voters must sign a petition, then the matter will be put before the entire electorate.

A case that rose out of the Referendum 71 campaign last fall has now attracted a national audience, and for good reason. The results of this case could effect 27 states that give their voters an opportunity to act as legislators through the petition process. Supreme Court watchers worry that the conservative leaning court could issue yet another ruling undermining the power of voters as they recently did in Citizens United which allows corporations and labor unions to give unlimited campaign contributions.

Legal scholars all over the country are watching this case very closely. They are concerned an unfavorable ruling could take us back to Nixon era politics when no one knew who was financing campaigns, handing even more power to corporate interests.

How we got here

As you may recall, our opponents during the Referendum 71 campaign were eager to take away domestic partnership rights for over 6000 of Washington's gay, lesbian, and senior families. Referendum 71 was soundly approved by voters, ushering in the historic expansion of LGBT rights for the first time at the ballot box in United States history. As someone whose family is protected under these laws, I can't thank fair minded Washington voters enough. So thank you again.

During that campaign our opponents took us to court several times. It is a strategy that anti-equality forces often deploy in an attempt to operate in a shroud of secrecy by skirting campaign finance laws, public disclosure laws, or any other reasonable check on our electoral system.

The strategy has a second prong. Litigation takes time, money, and resources, and it can distract from the central issue. Whether the issue is LGBT civil rights, immigrant rights or healthcare, the progressive movement is at its strongest when it is focusing on personal stories.

Doe vs Reed is one of those cases. Our opponents hope to destroy almost 40 years of open government by keeping the signatures that qualified Referendum 71 from the ballot private.

A long history of open government at risk

Our opponents are working against the will of Washington voters. In 1972, 72% of Washington voters overwhelmingly passed an initiative to create our current public disclosure laws. Washington voters wanted the process and the signatures to be public so that the voters could verify the accuracy of the process. Ever since, that's how the process has unfolded. People sign petitions, they are available to the public to verify the accuracy, and laws are approved or denied.

No petitioner has ever been harmed by the petition process. Ever.

Our opponent's baseless argument is that petition signers may be harmed if their names are disclosed. Even if something did happen to a petition signer on this petition or some future petition, there are laws already on the books to protect that petitioner. We do not need to destroy our open government to protect petitioners.

Accountability in our Government must remain open to public scrutiny. The Supreme court has an obligation to protect the rights of petitioners who wanted an honest electoral system in our state, voters whose rights are being attacked by the extreme right wing, and voters who want to protect the system from fraud and corruption.

This case has nothing to do with an imagined threat to petitioners; this case has everything to do with a movement in this country that wants to hurt honest hard working families. Everyone from people who value a woman's right to govern her own body, to immigrants, to people who want to see access to healthcare expanded, to people who value separation of church and state, to people who want to marry the person of their own choosing, are being targeted by these groups.

Anne Levinson, chairwoman of Washington Families Standing Together, the group that lead the Approve 71 campaign, told the Seattle Times, "What the anti-gay groups are attempting to do is get a sweeping constitutional rule that will allow them to continue to operate in secret in terms of ballot measures all across the country."

This story is not new. Oppressive groups always desire a shroud of secrecy. Granting that darkness, will only hurt good people who value their civil liberties.

The Supreme Court must protect the integrity of our open government. Too much is at stake if they don't.

The court is expected to rule sometime in June.

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