Every year, April 15th serves as a potent reminder of why the Franklin Center exists. As many of us noticed this week, the government collects a lot of our money in taxes, from the federal level down to small cities and towns, and we think it’s important to know how that money is being spent.
The stakes are as high as ever. As our watchdog journalists recently reminded us, Americans will have to devote nearly four months of their work year to pay off their annual tax burden to Uncle Sam, and the burden grows every year. Not surprisingly, more than half of Americans think the amount they pay in federal income taxes is too high. And to make matters worse, even with such a huge chunk of our paychecks going straight to government coffers, many states (and especially the federal government) continue to rack up billions upon billions of dollars in debt!
What is to be done? Who will stand up for the average, hardworking American to keep elected officials accountable and push state spending toward a sustainable path? When government blows through hard-earned tax dollars in a wasteful, abusive, or, worst of all, fraudulent manner, who will take them to task?
More and more, we cannot depend on legacy media to do the hard work of investigative journalism needed to track and expose government spending. Bias often plays a factor in mainstream outlets’ ineptness and tendency toward lapdog journalism, but so do hard economic realities. Investigative journalism takes time. It means following rabbit trails, making calls and waiting for calls back, pouring through countless pages of documents, and much more.
Time is money, as they say, and news outlets often lack both. At a time when government is at its largest, the traditional fourth estate is shrinking. The American Society of Newspaper Editors’ most recent newsroom census found that total newsroom employment nationwide was 38,000, the lowest since they began counting in 1978.
As one journalist from a newspaper in “flyover country” recently said, when budgets are tight and the pressure to get clicks for advertisers is high, “what rationale can there possibly be for doing the investigative work, the longer-form stories that actually help explain the workings of a community to the people who live there?”
The Federal Communications Commission came to a similar conclusion in a 2011 report: “The independent watchdog function that the Founding Fathers envisioned for journalism. . . is in some cases at risk at the local level.” Think about that. Even the government acknowledges the weakening capacity for local news outlets to produce hard-hitting journalism.
That’s where our Watchdog.org and Citizen Watchdog initiatives come in. Through professional reporters and citizen activists, the Franklin Center is dedicated to doing the hard work of local watchdog journalism in statehouses and city halls all across America. As a prime example of why we need these journalists to keep tabs on how local government spends our tax dollars, here are just a few egregious examples of government spending we’ve exposed this year:
- University of Iowa granted $876,752 to study snail sex
- Hawaii taxpayers picked up the tab for at least $350,000 of the Obamas’ vacation
- Cover Oregon spends millions on a dysfunctional website
- Mississippi education spending goes up while student performance flatlines
- Tennessee gave $302,000 to a Robin Williams movie set in an anonymous city
The list of wasteful spending goes on, but that’s why we’re here – to make sure these stories are told.