Whistle-blowers serve the public

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Talkative ex-employees may be embarrassing, but can serve the people's interests.

MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC probably learned more this year about an obscure legal strategy - nondisclosure agreements, or NDAs - than they ever wanted to know. That's due to the ongoing battle between President Trump and porn star Stormy Daniels, who had received $130,000 from Trump for an NDA aimed at preventing her from revealing an alleged sexual encounter.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the practice may be spreading. Incumbent Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, seeking another term in Wisconsin, apparently is requiring scores of employees in the Department of Justice to sign nondisclosure agreements.

The Justice NDAs come on the heels of three former cabinet secretaries for Gov. Scott Walker going public with strong criticisms against the governor, openly describing closed-door practices within the administration. One of the three, former Corrections secretary Ed Wall, also harshly criticized Schimel's stewardship at Justice.

THERE MAY BE GOOD reasons to keep certain confidentialities and, indeed, Justice employees already are required not to disclose information deemed protected under the law.

But general nondisclosure agreements may go much further, blocking those in a position to know from embarrassing the boss or blowing the whistle on bad behavior. Whistle-blowers are the most detested creatures of the political world, so there's no difficulty understanding what lies behind Schimel's intent.

Here's our take. The government belongs to the people, not to the governor, and not to the attorney general or any other temporary political occupant of a given position. The way to avoid whistle-blowing is to avoid bad behavior, not through nondisclosure agreements. The more information available to the people, the more accountable government we'll have. Aside from the relatively narrow reasons to justify confidentiality - think sex assault victims, or law enforcement informant identities - the only ones benefitting from secrecy are the politicians. In America, we always should err on the side of letting people know the truth, however that may impact somebody's political fortunes.

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