OPEN GOVERNMENT -- The Sacramento Bee today editorialized against the closed "Big 5" meetings in which Governor Schwarzenegger and the four top legislative leaders try to work out a deal on the months-overdue state budget—keeping developments secret not just from the public but from the rank and file lawmakers themselves.

Defenders of the Big Five say it's the only way to overcome
California's two-thirds vote requirement, which gives outside groups
enhanced power to kill any budget that hurts their interests.

There's
some truth to this claim. By negotiating deals in secret, legislative
leaders prevent industry groups, labor organizations and other
interests from rallying their troops and exerting pressure on
individual lawmakers.

Yet the fallacy of this argument is that
special interests are completely frozen out of the Big Five
negotiations and the final budget package. The reality is that the
biggest and most favored interests are often consulted and briefed as
the talks progress.

It's the little guys – groups that don't have
high-paid lobbyists or connections to the governor's office or
individual caucuses – that get frozen out. They become victims of the
Big Five secrecy.

Legislators know this. The governor knows this.
Yet this mockery of democracy continues, year after year, session after
session, because all of them allow it to happen.