Kamal Jain (1969–2015) was a state chair for the Libertarian Party of Massachusetts, a Libertarian state senate candidate, and a two-time candidate for state auditor (once on the Republican ticket, once as a Libertarian). His campaigns provide a blueprint for running on government transparency. They also demonstrate how “losing” candidates can raise public awareness and have a significant impact on government policy.
Jain lost his Libertarian run for auditor in the general election, and lost to an establishment favorite in the Republican primary. But because of his hard-fought campaigns, $24 billion that the state had been hiding in “off-budget spending,” and which the media refused to report or even acknowledge existed, saw the light of day.
Jain’s 2010 campaign appeared to impress Steve Grossman, a Democrat who was running for treasurer that year.
Several months after Jain had been crisscrossing the state on his slogan “Every Dollar and Every Dime of government spending ONLINE,” Grossman made transparency the focus of his campaign and ran on the slogan, “the government’s checkbook online.” Grossman won his race, and he subsequently disclosed the state’s total government spending — including “off-budget” — on the official Massachusetts treasurer’s website.
Here’s what Kamal Jain wrote in an online forum during the 2010 election, which can serve as a platform for any candidate running on transparency:
For the record, I am the ONLY candidate for state auditor from any party who has a vision and a plan for enhancing democracy and improving civic engagement through Total Transparency. Every other candidate for auditor who speaks of “transparency” says that they will tell the people what is going on, and yet offers no way in which the people can check the veracity of those statements.
Every Dollar and Every Dime of government spending, down to the transaction level, must be available to all of the people, in an easy-to-understand format and at no charge: every RFP [request for proposal], every response, every contract, and every invoice. The total of the details presented must add up to the amount of total spending as indicated in each year’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.
Within six months of my taking office, the auditor’s office will launch a free-to-use, easy-to-navigate, and easy-to-understand online transparency portal that will be open to the public. The underlying data will also be made available to anyone who wants it. Newspapers, think-tanks, bloggers, and other interested parties will no longer have to pay for this information as they do today.
Readily available technology must be implemented to allow every vote by every legislator to be reported in near real time, and it must correspond to the reported results on each bill acted upon by the legislature.
I will recommend legislation requiring all proposed legislation be made publicly available online for a minimum period of time before a vote is taken, giving the people time to read and understand what is being voted on and to contact their legislators prior to the vote.
The people must have access to the bill and the voting record before the governor has an opportunity to sign or veto legislation. It is wrong for the legislature to sell voting data to anyone; it is and should be a matter of written public record. Every vote by every legislator, every time.
All contract award decisions; all hiring, termination, and promotion decisions; all outsourcing and privatization decisions must be made public except in the case where legal or security constraints would be compromised.
Other candidates for auditor promise to go behind the curtain and tell the people what is going on back there. I pledge to tear down the curtain and invite the people to come in and see for themselves.
If we could find billions of dollars that [were] being wasted or spent inappropriately … would you want that? If we could end cronyism that lines the pockets of those with connections, would you want that?
As a society, we cannot have an honest discussion about appropriate levels of funding for programs until we can have an honest discussion about actual spending. Every dollar, every dime.
Kamal Jain was well respected by those who saw him campaign, and beloved by many for his generous nature. A hardworking activist, he died suddenly of a heart attack at age 46. His passing was a loss to liberty, but his legacy of transparency and true public service — in the libertarian sense of the word — lives on.
Verifiable government financial transparency is a popular issue with Libertarians. One hundred fifty-one Libertarian candidates ran for office in 2016 who made the following pledge:
Government should be at least as transparent as anyone it regulates, including citizens subject to an IRS audit, businesses harassed by government regulators, and political campaigns subject to FEC regulations. Therefore, if elected, I will sponsor and work diligently to pass legislation to put the government’s checkbook online. Each government transaction must cite as much detail as the IRS demands of citizens. Government agencies that refuse to fully and promptly disclose their finances will lose their funding, and taxes will be cut by the amount saved.
This article was originally published in LP News, Feb. 2017 issue (p. 11).