Our democracy was built for the people, by the people and is accountable to the people.
The best way to be accountable is through transparency.
I come to the floor today to celebrate an important week, known as Sunshine Week.
During this week we celebrate the birth of the fourth President of the United States, James Madison.
Madison is the father of the Constitution and the father of open government.
He believed that access to information and meaningful oversight and accountability are foundational to our government.
This week, I’m continuing his legacy by introducing several pieces of legislation.
I’m also asking the Government Accountability Office to look into how the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, has been impacted by the pandemic.
First, on the judicial side, I’m again advocating for “cameras in the courts.”
In the last year, nearly every major institution – from schools to Congress – have adapted to the pandemic by going virtual.
Bringing cameras into our federal courts would also bring in the public and open up access to our third branch of government.
At the same time, I’m also asking the courts to provide transparency into our civil justice system by requiring the disclosure of all parties in a case.
Litigation funders, such as hedge funds, are providing money to plaintiffs to bring lawsuits.
This is done in secret.
For many reasons, everyone involved in the case, including the judge and the defendant, should know these parties exist.
On the executive side, one of the most important tools the public has to hold its government accountable is the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.
Before its passage, people had to justify their need for information to the government.
After its passage, the government has to justify its refusal to release information.
In 2016, we took FOIA one step further by requiring the government to proactively disclose information.
These obligations are mandatory, even during unforeseen circumstances.
I’m deeply concerned they’re not being met.
Even before the pandemic, the GAO reported a significant increase in the number of FOIA requests and a backlog in addressing those requests.
Last May, DOJ reported that coronavirus impacted FOIA processing government-wide, as many agencies had limited ability to retrieve or process FOIA requests.
That is why I’m joining Senators Durbin, Leahy and Cornyn in asking the GAO to examine FOIA processes and procedures in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Our hope is to continue refining FOIA to make government information accessible in good times and in bad.
As an Iowa farmer, I know that without sunshine there cannot be growth, and both corn and democracy thrive in the light.