Transparency News 11/4/13

Monday, November 4, 2013
State and Local Stories


The Virginia Legislature passed a bill earlier this month that sets forth mandatory requirements for state university governing boards, including Mason’s Board of Visitors. The bill, #1952, requires governing boards to be transparent in regards to board meetings. However, Rector Clemente, the head of Mason’s Board of Visitors, claims that these requirements are nothing new for them. “We’ve been ahead of the curve on this,” Clemente said. “I’m proud to say that everything [the Virginia Legislature] has come up with, we have already come up with during my administration as rector”.
Fourth Estate

Given widespread dissatisfaction with Virginia’s choice for governor, many voters have expressed interest in casting a write-in vote on Election Day. Virginia localities use a variety of voting methods, but the bottom line is that voters will have a write-in option.

Shareholders of Media General Inc. will vote this week on a proposed merger that will expand the Richmond-based company’s broadcasting portfolio while also dramatically changing its ownership structure. If the company’s proposed merger with Nashville, Tenn.-based New Young Broadcasting Holding Co. Inc. wins approval as expected, Media General will go from owning and operating 18 television stations mostly in the Southeast to owning 31 stations in markets from New York state to San Francisco. The combined company’s portfolio also will include WRIC-Channel 8 in Richmond.

National Stories

A slew of media organizations have petitioned the government to release ObamaCare data that the White House has refused to make public. CNN, ABC, MSNBC and others have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking information on the beleaguered website. They have also asked for government documents revealing how many people have enrolled in the new healthcare exchanges.   Journalists have repeatedly pressed the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the enrollment data, but the administration says it won't do so until mid-November.
The Hill

The White House plans to launch a single online portal where journalists, researchers and other citizens can file Freedom of Information Act requests, according to an early draft of commitments to the international Open Government Partnership. A single FOIA portal could significantly reduce the time FOIA requesters spend managing requests that cross multiple agencies. It may also make it easier for agencies to forward requests within the government and to publicize responsive documents so FOIA officers don’t lose time digging for the same document twice. The governmentwide portal could be based on FOIA Online, a year-old system that tracks FOIA requests for the Commerce Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, though the White House doesn’t mention the system by name. FOIA Online is the only multi-agency online FOIA portal in government so far.

The Saginaw, Mich., schools Board of Education president is suing the district he serves, seeking copies of audio recordings of four board meetings in July, August and September. The Saginaw School District has denied Rudy Patterson's Freedom of Information Act requests, stating it doesn't have what he is seeking. Patterson, a board member since January 2012, filed a lawsuit Oct. 30 in Saginaw County Circuit Court against the Board of Education, Superintendent Carlton Jenkins and Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Labor Relations Kelley Peatross. Through the lawsuit, Patterson wants copies of the audio recordings of four meetings, attorney fees and punitive damages from the district.

A year ago last week, Hurricane Sandy swept into the New York region—destroying lives and uprooting homes in what became the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history. But as New Yorkers take stock of what was lost on the first anniversary of the superstorm, one result of Sandy’s destructive fury is only now becoming clear: the huge and still unquantifiable loss of records held by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in or near the country’s financial capital.

Five decades after President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot and long after official inquiries ended, thousands of pages of investigative documents remain withheld from public view. The contents of these files are partially known - and intriguing - and conspiracy buffs are not the only ones seeking to open them for a closer look. Some serious researchers believe the off-limits files could shed valuable new light on nagging mysteries of the assassination - including what U.S. intelligence agencies knew about accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald before Nov. 22, 1963.It turns out that several hundred of the still-classified pages concern a deceased CIA agent, George Joannides, whose activities just before the assassination and, fascinatingly, during a government investigation years later, have tantalized researchers for years. “This is not about conspiracy, this is about transparency,” said Jefferson Morley, a former Washington Post reporter and author embroiled in a decade-long lawsuit against the CIA, seeking release of the closed documents. “I think the CIA should obey the law. I don’t think most people think that’s a crazy idea.”

Among the many unanswered questions in the developing Ron Calderon corruption investigation:Just how did the media get hold of a FBI affidavit that lays out the details of the case?James J. Wedick, a former FBI special agent who led another Capitol uncover sting in the 1990s, attributed it to carelessness. "I find it hard to believe that an FBI agent would give someone that document," said Wedick, who lives in Gold River and was a source for the Calderon story that Al Jazeera America broke on Wednesday. The 124-page document was filed with the court under seal to obtain a search warrant for the raid on Calderon's offices in June. But the Qatar-based news network published a redacted version online. It's a treasure trove of detailed allegations that the Democratic state senator from Montebello sold his position and influence for money and favors.
Capitol Alert


Peter Galuska, Washington Post: It’s known as the Virginia Way. Richmond political culture clings to a quaint notion that its elected representatives are gentlemen and ladies who are above the petty venality that afflicts lesser states. “Neither ethical lapses nor public corruption are commonplace, let alone tolerated, in Virginia,” House Speaker Bill Howell has said. This presumption of noblesse oblige has prevailed since the days of Gov. Patrick Henry and Gov. Thomas Jefferson, when the General Assembly was a clubby conclave of landholders — not exactly the sort of men to tolerate questions about their honesty. So while the gift scandal that has tarnished McDonnell has assured that ethics reform will be on the legislative agenda next year in Richmond — regardless of who prevails in Virginia’s election Tuesday — many politicians in the state see the case as an anomaly. Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli maintained that it was “completely inconsistent with Virginia’s very reserved traditions.” All this would be less worrisome if there were decent checks on what lawmakers were up to. But Virginia has no independent ethics commission — as 41 other states do. Expense reports aren’t audited, and no one systematically reviews disclosure statements.