Government Transparency

U.S. PIRG believes that budgeting should be open, accountable, and follow long-term planning. Public money should be spent for the most effective pursuit of clear public benefits or to encourage beneficial behaviors undervalued by the market. 

Through Transparency, Shaping A Government Accountable to the People

How government collects and spends money is critically important. Tax and budget decisions are the most concrete way that communities declare priorities and balance competing values.

Unfortunately, government decisions about how to raise revenue and support public functions often fail to best advance the public interest. Too often, public subsidies, tax breaks or special deals are granted to powerful corporate interests at the taxpayers’ expense. When this happens, taxpayers are stuck with the tab, or public resources and services end up threatened.

It is not possible to ensure that government decisions are fair and efficient unless information is publicly accessible. Likewise, public officials and private companies that receive contracts and subsidies must be held to task for their actions. 

Transparency in government spending checks corruption, promotes fiscal responsibility and allows for greater, more meaningful participation in our democratic system. U.S. PIRG is working to advance these goals on a variety of fronts: 

  • Promoting public access to online information about government spending at a detailed "checkbook" level including contracts, subsidies and "off-budget" agencies.
     
  • Ensuring that companies that receive public subsidies are held accountable for delivering clear benefits or required to return public dollars.
     
  • Protecting against bad privatization deals that sell off public assets on the cheap and diminish public control of vital public structures such as toll roads, parking systems and traffic enforcement.

Issue updates

News Release | U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund | Budget

New Report Ranks All Fifty States on Government Spending Transparency

Government spending transparency is improving, but many states still lag far behind, according to “Following the Money 2015: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the sixth annual report of its kind by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. Some states have improved their spending transparency web portals significantly, and even introduced entirely new state-of-the-art transparency sites with innovative features, while others are still barely achieving the minimum standards.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget

Following the Money 2015

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Blog Post | Budget, Tax, Transportation

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Idea | Jaimie Woo

A little more than a year ago, I highlighted the absurdity of using a corporate tax holiday to fund infrastructure. Here's a quick refresher: Currently, large wealthy corporations avoid taxes by making it look as though their U.S. profits are generated offshore - costing Americans $90 billion each year in tax revenue.

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News Release | US PIRG | Budget

U.S.PIRG advises for stronger standards to track state and local economic subsidies

The Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) called for public comment on proposed rules for reporting on tax abatements that could require states and localities to achieve new levels of checkbook level transparency around economic development programs. Across the U.S. these programs represent tens of billions of dollars in subsidies, often granted with little transparency or accountability for results. In our comment letter to GASB, US PIRG made a few suggestions for amendments that would further strengthen the proposed GASB standards.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax, Transportation

Obama Budget Closes Tax Loopholes, Cuts Wasteful Spending, but Falls Short of Ending Offshore Tax Dodging

"President Obama’s budget deserves praise for closing egregious offshore tax loopholes and preventing companies with enough lawyers from using tax havens to get their tax bill down to zero. Unfortunately it fails to end the incentive for wealthy multinationals to take advantage of tax havens, and would fall short of putting an end to offshore tax dodging.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax

U.S. PIRG Urges Treasury Department to Expand Ruling on Inversions

 

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Public Interest Research Group today submitted comments to a ruling issued by The Department of Treasury on corporate inversions. The guidance, released in September, laid out a number of reforms to curb inversions including regulations on “hopscotch” loans and “de-controlling” strategies.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax

New Bill: No Federal Contracts for Companies that Renounce American Corporate Citizenship to Dodge Taxes

"Changing your address on a piece of paper shouldn’t change your tax bill. Unfortunately, a loophole in our tax code allows American companies to renounce their American corporate citizenship to avoid paying U.S. taxes...at the very least, lawmakers shouldn’t reward this tax dodging gimmick by granting these companies federal contracts."

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Ed Fund & Citizens for Tax Justice | Budget, Tax

Study: 70% of Fortune 500 Companies Used Tax Havens in 2013

Tax loopholes encouraged more than 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies to maintain subsidiaries in offshore tax havens as of 2013, according to “Offshore Shell Games,” released today by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Citizens For Tax Justice. Collectively, the companies reported booking nearly $2 trillion offshore for tax purposes, with just 30 companies accounting for 62 percent of the total, or $1.2 trillion.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax

House Tax Writers Vote to Make Offshore Loopholes Permanent

House tax writers voted to renew and making permanent two expired offshore tax loopholes, forcing average taxpayers and small business owners to pick up the tab for tax dodging by many multinationals for years to come. For all of the talk in Washington about getting our fiscal house in order, the Committee did not consider how to pay for these expensive tax breaks.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Tax

New Report Ranks Transparency of Government Spending in the 50 States

Most states are improving the transparency of government spending, but some do a much better job than others.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Tax

Following the Money 2013

Every year, state governments spend tens of billions of dollars through contracts with private entities for goods and services, subsidies to encourage economic development, grants, and other forms of spending. Accountability and public scrutiny are necessary to ensure that state funds are well spent.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Tax

The Hidden Cost of Offshore Tax Havens

In 2011, states lost approximately $39.8 billion in tax revenues from corporations and wealthy individuals who sheltered money in foreign tax havens. Multinational corporations account for more than $26 billion of the lost tax revenue, and wealthy individuals account for the rest.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Tax

Transparency in City Spending

The ability to see how government uses the public purse is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending checks corruption, bolsters public confidence, improves responsiveness, and promotes greater effectiveness and fiscal responsibility.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Tax

Subsidizing Bad Behavior

BP’s recent $4.5 billion legal settlement with the Justice Department for its misdeeds in the Gulf oil spill was historic for being the largest ever criminal settlement. But it was historic for another reason as well—none of it is allowed to be tax deductible. Unfortunately, too many settlements for wrongdoing end up as tax deductions.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Tax

What America Could Do With $150 Billion Lost to Offshore Tax Havens

Many corporations and wealthy individuals use offshore tax havens—countries with minimal or no taxes—to avoid paying $150 billion in U.S. taxes each year. By shielding their income from U.S. taxes, corporations and wealthy individuals shift the tax burden to ordinary Americans, who must pick up the tab in the form of cuts to public services, more debt, or higher taxes. The $150 billion lost annually to offshore tax havens is a lot of money, especially at a time of difficult budget choices. To put this sum in perspective, we present 16 potential ways that income could be used.

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