CACS LogoOk guys, tonight September 14th, I’m throwing another cocktail party. It’s an event to present the new California Common Sense organization. I’ll explain below why California Common Sense is such a cool idea, why what they’re accomplishing already is very impressive, and why just about everyone in California is gonna love this. My mind is blown about their possibilities.

The full details are at the Facebook Event Page:

Confirm there if you’re coming.

So my friend Joe Lonsdale is a guy with big ideas and incredible results. An early executive at Clarium Capital, he worked closely with Peter Thiel, the super famous Billionaire who founded PayPal and funded Facebook into glory. Together they funded and developed some incredible projects, and separately Joe has begun several prominent business ventures and organizations. One of his latest projects is California Common Sense (aka CACS). Information technology is rapidly transforming the world, and Joe wants it to transform our government.

CACS is a nonprofit organization devoted to opening the books of our state government and making all that data easy and fun to play with, so you can easily understand what’s actually going on. The goal of this increased transparency is to increase accountability and reduce the massive waste.

The public interest in withholding these records outweighs the public interest in the disclosure of them.
   –Erin Peth, Deputy of Legal Affairs for Governor Jerry Brown

After all, as citizens we’re paying for this (state income tax, property tax, payroll tax, every time we buy something in a store, etc). We are all shareholders in this organization known as the California Government and we should know what’s going on with our money. Even if our government wasn’t in a serious fiscal crisis, which will soon force massive cuts in the important services we do rely on.

CACS just launched and they are already making waves. Their transparency tools are already empowering citizens, journalists, and even state representatives to begin to concretely understand just what exactly is actually going on. CACS is already cited by all the top state newspapers and they’re causing some fantastic news stories to be generated. Seriously, check out this news article titled “Calif. Lawmakers Resist Calls To Open The Books

Their Transparency Portal makes it easy for anyone to explore the how California spends its money and compensates its employees. Check it out:

Here check out their visualization map of the 3600+ departments (and each department budget) in California’s government and ask yourself if it’s humanly possible for any person to comprehend it all:

Money Toilet PaperIt’s a vague feeling, but we all know that things are way out of control with our government. We know the way they are spending our money is extreme and wasteful, but the issue is so big we really can’t digest it. It’s not just the citizens, our representatives are unable to digest this. CACS is making the blurryness clear and more concrete. When we know where exactly the problems are, we can hold our politicians accountable for those problems and force our politicians to address and reduce the waste of our money if they hope to continue to represent themselves as a representative of our best interests.

In a free economy, when someone has a bad idea, it fails. No one is forced to pay for a bad idea they don’t want. Every single agency on that California State Government Map represents someone’s “good idea”, permanently protected from failure, because we’re going to have to pay for it whether anyone likes it or not. With security like that, of course people are going to move into government jobs, and of course these government agencies are going to multiply and grow. If making money selling popsicles was guaranteed by the tax payers, we’d be complaining about the massive burdensome Big Popsicle industry and all its wasteful inefficiencies.

Seriously, look at that map. We’re not just talking about roads and police and firefighters here.

You don’t have to be a Libertarian like me to get behind this. Whatever your views on the role of government and what services it should offer, WE ALL AGREE that it should respect our taxed dollars more and reduce the massive waste in how it functions. It shouldn’t be controversial to anyone that those we pay to serve us with services be responsible and open and transparent about what they do with our cash. These are not abstract academic concerns. We deserve real answers and accountability.

Governor Jerry Brown American FlagWhen California Common Sense sent a request for the details of the state checkbook for only the last fiscal year, they received the following response from Erin Peth, Deputy of Legal Affairs for Governor Jerry Brown:

“We are denying your request as currently framed because it is so onerous that the public interest served by not disclosing the records clearly outweighs the public interest served by the disclosure of the records.”

What???? She clarified herself with this:

“The public interest in withholding these records outweighs the public interest in the disclosure of them.”

Wow! Really?

Governor Jerry Brown’s spokesman Gil Duran later flippantly clarified: “Their demand for millions and millions of pages of documents detailing every stamp, paper clip and pen purchased in the past five years was unreasonable and overly broad.”

I wish the IRS would be as understanding with us. Why is our government asking for a level of consideration they are unwilling to grant us? It is WE who are opening our wallets. Who is a servant of who?

(long pause to let that last question sink in)

And besides, if no one knows how our money is spent, not the Governor, not our representatives, let alone journalists and citizens, how can we hope to avoid rampant mismanagement, abuse, corruption, and eventual total disaster?

What I love about the California Common Sense organization is that they bring the vague into the concrete. We can see clearly that it’s all the silly little details that add up.

Why does it cost the state of California $1.75 to print a page of paper, when they can go to Kinkos and do it for 5 cents/page? Who’s benefitting from the millions of dollars in unnecessary cost there? And why are we printing 1700 copies at that excessive rate for every house document, proposed bill and proposed amendment when we only have 40 state Senators and 80 Assembly members? In fact, why are we printing, sorting and managing all those documents at all when convenient electronic distribution to 120 people would save us many millions right there? I’m waiting…

San Francisco Prison CellAnother small example. We can legitimately debate whether our escalating prison population is too high in our state, but why does it cost us over $47,000/year per prisoner for a total of $9.5 Billion a year to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation while Texas has an equivalent prison population of about 171,000 prisoners and spends only $3.1 Billion a year?? We are paying 3 times as much! Why? Why does it cost us $133 a day (or about $4000/month) to house a prisoner? Seems like awfully high rent for a 48 square foot cell of concrete and metal bars . Most California apartments are about $1 to $1.50 per sqft/month. Rare ultra luxury plush Beverly Hills penthouse apartments with jaw dropping views, gym, valet, concierge and pampered management can reach as high as $8 per sqft/month. Why are prison cells often over $80 per sqft/month (per person!) when their featured amenities are a bed (now often stacked 3 high) and an exposed toilet bowl?

And then there’s education funding which is California’s largest single expense and represents HALF the spending of our General Fund. It’s so full of waste and abuse outside the classroom, I don’t know where to begin…

Contrary to the statements above from Governor Brown’s office, it’s clear that the public interest is damn well served by the disclosure of its expenses.

Every dollar taxed from us to pay for this inefficient nightmare is a dollar we cannot spend productively in our economy. With unemployment so high, with opportunities continuing to diminish, with our economy in the state its in, with state governments in debt and budgets strained, the burden of a protected class of wasteful bureaucrats and the plunder of their petty orders, it’s way past tolerable at this point.

Every detail of our government contributes to a big mess of institutionalized mismanagement and waste. And why would we expect it to be any different? You’re going to pay for it regardless, you don’t have a choice.

And hell, you’re not paying attention anyway.

Let’s change that. Shall we?

We can start by removing the protection of government privacy. As a shareholder in our government, let’s open the books and take a look. See what we find.

For more info on CACS:

Joe has an excellent Letter From The Chairman

And Dakin has a great piece in the Huffington Post:

And here is the flyer for tonight’s event that CACS has been circulating to its crowd.

I’m really honored that I have anything to do with these guys. It’s impressive stuff, come check it out.

See you Tonight at 7:30!

(Confirm now if you plan on coming!)