CINCINNATI -- In a world where it’s common for government officials to be accused of corruption, Ohio is trying to prevent that by using one of the most advanced websites of its kind to publicly post all spending reports at a state level.
Launched in December 2014, OhioCheckbook.com features interactive pie charts that allow users to look at different government offices and see exactly where tax dollars are being used.
The website has earned Ohio the No. 1 ranking for government transparency by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group in 2015 and 2016 in their annual "Follow the Money" report.
While every state in the U.S. now has their own versions of online checkbooks for citizens to use, Ohio’s is considered one of the most advanced, tracking spending data back to 2008.
According to Mandy Merit, press secretary for state Treasurer Josh Mandel, the site was the first of its kind, setting a new national standard for government transparency.
"Two years ago, Ohio had one of the worst state spending sites, they rated like, a D in our reports. It was basically a nonfunctional site with not a lot of information on spending," said Michelle Surka, who is a tax and budget advocate for U.S. PIRG. "Then in the past two years they’ve become the national leader for that type of site."
There have been over 582,000 searches on OhioCheckbook.com since its launch in 2014, according to Merit.
"I believe the people of Ohio have a right to know how their tax money is being spent," Mandel said. "By posting local government spending online, we are empowering taxpayers across Ohio to hold public officials accountable."
Surka also believes that sites like OhioCheckbook.com can help prevent corruption from happening because everything is public and easily accessible.
"When reporters and watchdogs and people that are interested citizens can actually comb through this information, then it’s a lot harder for any public official to abuse that power," Surka said.
Since the site's launch, over 670 school districts and local governments across Ohio have added their information to the site so that the public can easily access information.
Winton Woods City Schools is one of the most recent additions to the site.
Donna O’Connor, assistant treasurer for the district, said that they joined OhioCheckbook.com because they wanted to be transparent and allow the public to know what they are doing with their funds.
"What we’re hoping is that it will cut down on the amount of public information requests," she added.
According to Surka, online government checkbooks have been proven to cut back significantly on time spent tending to open records requests. In Montana alone, she noted, it eliminated 40 hours worth of work over the course of a year.
"Many local communities that have joined OhioCheckbook.com have said they’ve been able to alleviate many of the burdens of complying with a multitude of public records requests by simply directing their constituents to OhioCheckbook.com," said Merit.