Iowa ranks first in the nation when it comes to a citizen’s access to public information, but there is room for improvement.
A survey released Monday by the Center for Public Integrity, ranked all 50 states in topics related to government transparency and accountability. The study found that while Iowa law gives citizens the right to access government and private sector information, and also provides an appeals process if that information is denied, retrieving those documents can be a byzantine process.
"Even if things are made available, you might have to go into an office and request it," says Lauren Mills, an Iowa City-based journalist who worked with the project.
This is significant if a person seeking information is several hours away from the office which houses the records he or she is requesting. Mills says ideally laws require documents to be posted online in a format that’s well organized and easy to search.
Another area on the survey which Iowa scores particularly low is in lobbying regulations. Part of that is due to complexities in determining which interests are paying which lobbyists, who in turn advocate for or against legislation at the statehouse.
"Lobbyists, they do have to register for bills that they are lobbing on, but that isn't connected, it's not reported with the annual client report or within the lobbyists's annual registration," says Mills. "You kind of have to follow a couple links. And kind of need to know what you're looking for."
Also while lobbyist registration, salary and bill declaration information is available online, Mills since this material is not available in a downloadable format which makes the system even more opaque.