Adam Andrzejewski is the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of OpenTheBooks.com, the world’s largest private database of government spending. Adam is an entrepreneur. Before founding OpenTheBooks, he co-founded HomePages Directories, a $20-million publishing company (1997-2007). In 2010, Adam ran for Governor of Illinois and was endorsed by the founder of Solidarity, Noble Laureate and Polish President Lech Walesa. He joined us as our guest on Episode 78 of the Agents of Innovation podcast.
Adam’s family has been in Illinois since 1844, when his mother’s ancestors came from New Amsterdam and settled in Illinois. His grandparents on his father’s side came from Poland and arrived in Illinois during the Great Depression.
Adam Andrzejewski grew up in Herscher, Illinois, about 60 miles south of Chicago. “It was like Mayberry growing up,” said Andrzejewski. He developed his work ethic on his family’s farm. “I never had a day off. I never had a day I could sleep in,” said Andrzejewski. Between the farm, mowing lawns, his newspaper delivery route, religious education, and school. “Over the course of time, it instills in you something different. It instilled in me a work ethic. It instilled in me grit and resilience and I was able to use that not only as an entrepreneur but also today,” in his public policy experiment in venture capital. “I’m up at four in the morning.”
In 1997, he and his brother started HomePages Directories to take the concept of the big, clunky yellow phone books and break them down into small neighborhood directories. “We knew that 87 percent of purchases are within a 7-mile radius of your home, so you didn’t need a 3-inch thick directory … you just needed your hometown vendors, your hometown businesses and providers, and that’s the book we gave people.” For a while, they only published these directors for towns that were 5,000 people or less. They were very popular.
“After 10 years we were an overnight success of literally working around the clock,” said Andrzejewski. After three years, they nearly lost the company because they ran out of money. They survived that lean period. “Starting in year five, that was the first year we had a profitable year and made some money.” In year six, they were a $5 million businesses and by year 10, they were a $20 million business. “And that’s when we were finally an overnight success.” After 10 years, Adam cashed out and sold his share of the company. His brother still runs the company today and is now thriving in the electronic era.
Both of their parents were public school teachers in the Herscher school district. Adam is the oldest of seven children.
“I always knew I was going to go into business,” said Andrzejewski. “Furthermore, my father and mother instilled in me a true love of public service.” His father ran for an unsuccessful bid to the state house. While his dad wasn’t successful, he pilloried against those in office who were corrupt, including an Illinois Governor who spent decades taking from the coffers of the taxpayers and was eventually sent to federal prison. Between his father’s own experience and example, and his own entrepreneurial experience, Adam Andrzejewski’s philosophy towards government and public service was formed.
“When government taxes you, when they take a piece of your hard work, which is your freedom, and when they spend that, to spend that honestly, efficiently, and frugally, that’s what I fight for the rest of my life to ensure,” said Andrzejewski.
He didn’t win his race for Governor in 2010, but he believes “we left a policy legacy,” which ultimately led him to found OpenTheBooks.com, which launched in 2014 on a nationwide basis. “We first started in Illinois to opening the books and auditing the books and we then brought that model writ large nationwide.”
“At OpenTheBooks.com, we’ve pioneered this concept: of every dime, online, in real time,” said Andrzejewski. “If they tax you, we deserve to see where it goes; we deserve to follow the money. It’s our constitutional right – it’s in Article 1 Section 1 – to hold them accountable for tax and spend decisions.”
About 80 cents of every tax dollar is captured and displayed at OpenTheBooks.com, making it the world’s largest private database of government spending. He was able to persuade the legendary former U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn, to be his honorary chairman. [Coburn sadly passed away in March 2020 after a longtime fight with cancer].
“For the first time in our nation’s history, we compiled a responsive record of virtually every single salary and pension record of every public employee at every level of government across the whole country,” said Andrzejewski. “People can come to the site and search their local units of government. They can find out by name, and what position and title, makes how much money for last year and the three previous years. That’s important because for the first time the books are open.”
“You can’t complain about the corruption in Washington, DC until you take a look in your own backyard, where you have reputation, where you know how the decisions get done, where you know the players,” said Andrzejewski. “Start your own transparency movement in your own hometown.”
OpenTheBooks.com has partnered with many media outlets including USA Today and The New York Times on investigations into large salaries taken by hospital CEO and by wasteful government spending by the Mayor of New York City. “Our stuff cuts – its cuts through in the mainstream media and these things become cultural moments.”
Andrzejewski is a critic of the public policy decision “to shut down the economic engine of an entire country” in response to the COVID19 public health crisis. He calls it “the worst public policy decision in at least the last one hundred years.” In addition to shutting down the economy, the federal government has also spent over $6 trillion this year alone in stimulus and unemployment assistance.
“Our mission at OpenTheBooks.com is more important than ever during this moment of crisis,” said Andrzejewski. “We have written six letters to the President, published in both the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, asking the President to embrace the transparency revolution and wage war on waste.”
Andrzejewski says that the response to this virus has put our already exploding national debt “on steroids.” With his father in a nursing home, Andrzejewski worries about the health issues behind COVID19 every day and believes that vulnerable Americans should take precautions. “But we need to keep the engine working or the system will collapse,” he says.
OpenTheBooks.com has looked at the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which started in the federal CARES Act. “We mapped the mega loans – those loans between $1 million and $10 million,” said Andrzejewski. “We called out Hollywood celebrities,” including Kanye West, Francis Ford Coppola, and Robert Redford for having companies they own take taxpayer-funded PPP loans.
Still living in the Land of Lincoln with his wife and three daughters, Andrzejewski is on a mission to empower every American to use the information in his database to hold government accountable. He cities Article 1, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution which says, “A regular statement and account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.” Then he reminds us that, in the internet age, this constitutional clause should translate to: “every dime, online, in real time. Open the books.”
You can listen to the full interview with Adam Andrzejewsk
by tuning into Episode 78 of the Agents of Innovation podcast, on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Stitcher, and SoundCloud. You can also follow the podcast on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. We welcome your comments below and encourage you to write a review on Apple podcasts.