In the June 23rd Columbus Dispatch editorial, the Akron Beacon Journal was cited as saying that :
” ALTHOUGH THEY are supported by billions in taxpayers’ dollars, Ohio’s public pension funds are stingy when it comes to disclosing details about individual retirees. The trouble is, the pension funds are likely to need additional funding to remain solvent. Without a greater degree of transparency, lawmakers will find it difficult to assure the public that the money is being spent wisely.” http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/editorials/stories/2010/06/23/other-viewpoints.html?sid=101
Having recently read this article in the Columbus Dispatch, that cited an editorial from the Akron Beacon Journal, I must say that I agree with a very little of the statement the editor made. The core of the editorial had to do with enacting a law that would require all pension funds to give out any and all information on their recipients.
However, I take umbrage at forcing, or legalizing, any agency to disclose all personal details about any individual. Address, age, income, home phone numbers, family members, all should be kept private. Asking for “transparency” is merely a substitute word for taking away the privacy rights of the individual pensioner.
Over the years, pension funds have been an easy target for fraud. As a cost-saving and fraud preventing measure, legislators now want to enact a bill forcing pension funds to disclose any and all information about the people receiving their funds.
This strikes me as a serious violation of our Constitutional right to privacy that we are all entitled to. Do the people administering the funds have to disclose everything about themselves? Or will it be just the pensioners that they have to supply information on?
In an era where identity theft is rampant and theft from pension funds occurs by large and small investment firms, disclosure of personal information from these types of funds will almost certainly guarantee that identity theft and misappropriation of funds occur just as often, if not more often, in the future. This may be the information age, but that doesn’t mean that all information on any person should be put out there for anyone to access and use.
The article goes on to specifically mention the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, the State Teachers Retirement System and the School Employees Retirement System, Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund and Ohio State Highway Patrol Retirement System as examples of systems that legislators want full informational access to. (http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/editorials/stories/2010/06/23/other-viewpoints.html?sid=101 )
My question is why? Will full disclosure of the amount of income, years of service, social security numbers, banks and bank routing numbers, etc., lead to less theft and fraud? I don’t think so. Supplying that information to any institution or government committee puts it out there into the general public and makes personal information an easy target for a thief or any other criminal.
The editorial also mentions that the pension funds are “supported by taxpayer dollars”. Well, of course they are. Policemen, firemen, teachers and all public employees pay taxes as well as paying into their retirement funds. Using a statement like that is nothing more than rhetoric designed to inflame the public to support what the legislators want done.
Just one more scare tactic to get the public to follow like sheep.
There is also the safety factor involved. In Ohio, the police and fireman pension funds currently refuse to give out any information on their recipients for fear of felons finding out where they live and harming them. I see that as fair and reasonable. These people served us selflessly for years, paid into the system and have earned their privacy.
Teachers have the same problem. Their organizations only give out names and addresses. If there was full disclosure, disgruntled students, parents, or community members who want information on a particular teacher to cause them trouble, would have no trouble obtaining it and then causing that teacher problems or harm. Where is the teachers’ guaranteed Constitutional right to privacy at? Where is their right to safety and happiness?
No. Full disclosure of all information on pension recipients is a blatant violation of several of the articles of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
In the closing argument from the Akron Beacon Journal, the editor states:
“…..the default position should be: Lean in the direction of prompt and complete disclosure, unless strong evidence is presented that the details would pose a concrete threat to a retiree and his or her family. Blanket protection, given without evidence of a specific concern, makes it impossible to oversee the broader system and to rein in the abuses that erode public confidence.”
I disagree. Their logic is faulty and based on the premise that the responsibility of protection is the problem of the pensioner when, in reality, it is the duty of the pension planners, fund managers and other employees of the business, or organization, managing the pension funds. Protection of information should be automatically given and not have to be proven necessary.
It is not the fault of the pensioners that their funds are mismanaged or that someone steals their identity. It is the fault of the people managing the fund and their safety procedures….both internal and external. We should look there, at these fund managers and employees, to see if they are fully accountable for what they do. Not the person receiving the money that they’ve paid into the fund their entire working lives. Make the fund managers and employees more accountable for their actions. Do background checks periodically, have better safety features designed into the programs, do pension audits more frequently, monitor the funds and employees more closely. But don’t punish the pensioners for doing the right thing.
To look at the pensioners and demand full disclosure is closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. Let’s close the barn door before the horse runs off by looking at the people responsible for protecting and investing the pension monies. Then, and only then, will people feel safe and secure that they, and their income, are safe.