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The News Gazette: Jim Dey: Tax watchdog continues digging on spending questions

November 14, 2017 10:30 AM
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Jim Dey: Tax watchdog continues digging on spending questions

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 7:00am | Jim Dey
 
Taxpayer watchdog Adam Andrzejewski's ride on a tidal wave of tax money continues to take him to the most unexpected of places.

This summer, the founder of OpentheBooks.com was a guest on the C-SPAN network program "Q&A" hosted by Brian Lamb, where he was asked about the organization's goal of tracking how the government spends federal, state and local dollars.

The 48-year-old Andrzejewski (pronounced Angie-EF-ski) described the interview as a "great experience" that generated a "lot of money in donations" for his organizations.

Just last week, he was the keynote speaker of the 2017 Governor's Business Forum in Cheyenne, Wyo., talking about the dynamic changes that can be wrought when the public discovers how and where its money is spent.

Even though he communicates directly with the public through newspaper commentaries or his regular articles in Forbes magazine, the public also hears indirectly from him through reports of wasteful or curious spending practices he has brought to the attention of news outlets.

This past summer, Chicago newspapers were filled with reports about excessive employer overtime costs paid by the financially beleaguered city, including the news that "more than 160 employees of the streets and sanitation department made over $100,000 a year."

While Andrzejewski's forums may change, his goal remains the same. He and his organization are devoted to reporting every dime of federal, state and local spending online — "every dime, online, in real time," as he puts it.

Spending is listed at USAspending.gov and OpentheBooks.com. He said that federal spending has been reported since 2006 and that his organization now reports all the state and local spending of 47 out of 50 states. The three states that have eluded reporting to him are Wyoming, California and North Carolina.

Right now, Andrzejewski is working on Wyoming, where he has submitted 800 freedom-of-information requests that cover every level of spending in the state.

He said his blanket request has "created quite a stir," including opposition from the state auditor and enthusiastic support from Gov. Matt Mead.

He said the organization is reluctant to try to achieve its goal through litigation, which is costly and time-consuming. Instead, Andrzejewski said he's trying to "work out the differences" with Wyoming's auditor through negotiation and compromise, just as he did with late Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.

But he said many public officials remain as reluctant to embrace spending transparency as they ever were, their operating theory being that whatever the public doesn't know can't hurt them.

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