Michigan Coalition for Open Government joins fight for public accountability as new watchdog group

Coalition can provide access to Knight Foundation grants to assist in legal battles over open meetings, access to public records

LANSING, Mich. (March 11, 2013) – Michigan has some of the nation’s weakest requirements for government ethics and accountability, but a new statewide organization can help journalists and citizens gain access to public records and meetings so wrongdoers can’t hide.

The Michigan Coalition for Open Government (MiCOG) is being launched Monday, March 11, at the start of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. MiCOG offers journalists, citizens and others interested in open government the opportunity to get financial help for legal fights against public officials or governments that don’t comply with Michigan’s open records and open meetings laws. It’s an important new tool to keep government accountable.

MiCOG will be able to recommend significant freedom of information, open meetings and public access legal cases to the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) for financial support through a $2 million Knight Foundation grant. The coalition also wants to promote and protect transparency and accountability in state and local governments and create educational programs and information for statewide use. Groups such as the Mid-Michigan and Detroit chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Michigan State University College of Law First Amendment Law Clinic are among the founding sponsors. Individuals may join for a $25 annual membership fee, while students can join for $10.

“Citizens and journalists are having greater difficulty obtaining public documents from government agencies, deterred by long delays in responses and high fees,” says MiCOG President Jane Briggs-Bunting, an author, media attorney and former Michigan State University School of Journalism director. “Most individuals and smaller news organizations don’t have the resources to mount legal challenges. MiCOG can help with that.”

Michigan received an overall grade of “F” and ranked 44th out of the 50 states in a 2012 state integrity investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International. It flunked in the categories of executive accountability, judicial accountability, political financing, legislative accountability, lobbying disclosure, ethics enforcement agencies, and redistricting, among others, and got a “D” for public access to information.

By signing up to join MiCOG, those who care about public accountability can join the fight to make government meetings and records more accessible. Find out more at www.miopengov.org.

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