Constituent E-Mail Latest Utah Sticking Point

Brooke Adams continues to do a stellar job of chronicling the Utah working group’s efforts to redraw the state’s FOI laws:

As the work of a group charged with recommending changes to Utah’s open-records law draws to a close, it’s clear there’s a major sticking point among its members: whether written correspondence from constituents to lawmakers should be public at all.

Most people don’t realize the letters and emails they send to legislators are public records under the state’s Government Records Access and Management Act, said GRAMA Working Group member Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton. He argues an attempt to alert them to that fact may only serve to chill communication from some.

“Is that constitutional?” he asked at a recent group subcommittee meeting. “You cannot talk to your legislator in an email without it being a public document?”

After nearly three months of discussion, Adams and numerous other lawmakers are not convinced the law does enough to protect personal information disclosed to them on a daily basis by constituents or to avoid subjecting people to what Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, calls “pre-emptive intimidation” of those who don’t like their views on hot-button issues.

Efforts to shield such communication have been successful elsewhere. Across the country, nearly a dozen states, including Kentucky, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have walled off constituent communication. Those states specifically say such correspondence is not public record, or they provide broad protections for personal, private disclosures….


And the Democracy Gently Weeps: Jon Stewart on Palin E-Mails…

Well played, Mr. Stewart…well played.

Legislative Calendars: Why A State Secret?

Nice piece on access to legislative calendars. Why the secrecy?

Thanks to mindless Palin e-mail feeding frenzy, at least…

People are suddenly paying attention to FOI….and finding that, shock of shock, they are withholding all the good stuff.

One Good Thing from the Palin EMail Crapola…

From Propublica:

Initial estimate of the cost to produce the e-mails: $15 million

ACTUAL COST: $725 per media org




Holy Mother of Gawd: It’s Sarah Palin’s E-mails!

ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 29:  Former U.S. Vice pres...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

With the intensity typically reserved for tsunamis, coronation or world war, our nation’s news media stand poised, ready for the three-years-late release of then-Gov. Sarah Palin’s trove of e-mail.

The fact that this story is (1) so old it grows mold, that (2) it has less than no meaningful news value as the woman is not even a candidate for higher office, or (3) that nothing Palin says should be considered of any societal or informational import seems to have eluded the press corp. Take it from no less a hellraiser than David Corn at no less a paragon of muckraking than Mother Jones:

Today, at 9 a.m. local time in Juneau, the state of Alaska is scheduled to release 24,199 pages of emails Sarah Palin sent and received during her half-term as governor of the Last Frontier. State workers will distribute six-box sets and hand trucks (which must be returned) to representatives of a dozen or so media outfits, including Mother Jones. Immediately, a mad dash will be on, with journalists reviewing (and scanning) these thousands of emails, searching for illuminating or entertaining information regarding the GOP’s number-one political celebrity, who remains a possible 2012 presidential contender. (Shortly after the release, Mother, and ProPublica will post online a searchable archive of the emails.) This saga began with a request I made almost three years ago.

The humanity! The absurdity! The waste of journalistic time, money and energy that could be devoted to actual newsgathering!

I did love this:

Matt Wells at The Guardian tweets: “Astonishing; Alaska will print multiple copies of 24,000 Palin emails from the internet and media orgs will scan them all back in again.”

Oh, and they are…and they are breathlessly reporting and crowdsourcing and blogging and Tweeting and….

It’s vacuous. It’s the Lewinsky report all over again, only even less important and more mundane, and yet the Wikileaks cables look like a day at the beach compared to this.

I do not belittle the media outlets who stuck with the FOI request. That’s what should happen, every time. But I know for a fact that there are so many more important requests to be made, to be litigated, in communities large and small all over the country, and it saddens me when the profession I love becomes a caricature of its worst excesses.


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Judge orders release of university foundation records…

From the erstwhile Student Press Law Center:

A state court judge on Monday ordered the releaseof East Stroudsburg University Foundation’s donation records, placing a hopeful capstone on a 2-year public records battle.

In February 2009 The Pocono Record, a regional paper in Pennsylvania, filed a public records request for funding information from the East Stroudsburg University Foundation in connection with the paper’s investigation of an ESU official suspected of sexual and financial impropriety.

The ESU Foundation is a nonprofit organization that collects private gifts and grants for the university.

The Record argued that the foundation’s files were subject to Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law because the foundation performed government functions for the university and was a state-affiliated entity.

The university and foundation denied the request, however, arguing that the foundation was exempt because it is an independent contractor.

An Interesting Look at the Pentagon Papers Release

If you missed the New York Times story on the world’s most anticlimactic declassification, you missed some great historical detail:

When Mr. Ellsberg first leaked the study, he had to take it volume by volume out of a safe in his office and ferry it to a small advertising company owned by the girlfriend of a colleague who had Xerox machine. Page by page, they copied it in all-night sessions. Now the National Archives and Records Administration will scan it and — behold — it will be online quickly.

DeMint Files FOIA Request Over NLRB’s Boeing Suit…

From a story in The Hill:

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) on Monday sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in an effort to “bring transparency” to what DeMint says was a partisan decision by the board to sue Boeing.

“The public facts surrounding the complaint raise serious questions about the interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act upon which it is based, to say nothing of the troubling appearance of partisan, special interest politics at its heart,” DeMint wrote in his June 6 letter.

The NLRB argues the suit is warranted because Boeing’s 2009 decision to move a production plant to South Carolina amounts to illegal retaliation against striking workers in Washington State. But Republicans charge that the suit is an open attack against right-to-work states like South Carolina on behalf of unions.

DeMint is looking for evidence that the suit was a result of coordination between the NLRB and the International Association of Machinists (IAM), and believes he has found it.

A copy of the request can be found here.

No Access to Who California Lawmakers Are Meeting With…

An interesting story on access to calendar items…

Officials from San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner have thrown open their daily calendars, allowing insight into whom they choose to meet and how they fill their days doing the taxpayers’ business.

But in California’s state capital, even lawmakers willing to divulge their appointment schedules are barred from doing so — a remarkable thwarting of the public’s right to know, according to open-government experts across the country.

As previously reported, in late April, the rules committees governing the Assembly and Senate denied a request by the Bay Area News Group, the Associated Press and the First Amendment Coalition to reveal the appointment calendars of lawmakers and their key staffers. Citing the Legislative Open Records Act, the denial covered all lawmakers, including those who told reporters they were perfectly willing to reveal their meetings.

Since the denial, the Bay Area News Group has surveyed government watchdog groups, and gathered numerous examples at the local, state and federal level of elected officials who release their daily schedules. While it is easy to find such examples, it appears most often to be a matter of individual choice, because few agencies require disclosure. But public agencies that prohibit disclosure, as the California Legislature does, are virtually unheard of.