Transparency News 3/3/14

Monday, March 3, 2014
State and Local Stories


While attorneys for former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell wrangle in court over felony charges that he and his wife, Maureen, illegally accepted luxury gifts and large loans, state lawmakers are wrapping up a session in which they have left open key loopholes that could allow a similar scandal to unfold. With just a week to go before its scheduled adjournment, the General Assembly has not passed the kind of sweeping reforms of Virginia’s lax ethics rules that Republicans and Democrats both said they wanted after the McDonnell revelations began, and they did little to address a host of other problems cited by advocates of deeper reform. They left untouched the state’s no-limit campaign finance culture, in which officials can take checks of any size as long as they’re disclosed. They let themselves and other state and local officials continue taking unlimited and undisclosed loans through companies they own. And although they passed bills banning some individual gifts greater than $250, they put no caps on the cumulative dollar value of gifts officials can receive from people with business before them. The House and Senate have passed different bills. They will work on a compromise over the next week, but neither bill addresses key loopholes.
Washington Post

Two former Madison County supervisors have filed a lawsuit against the county's administrator citing a violation of the Freedom of Information Act. They met in Madison General District Court Thursday morning. Former supervisors Pete Elliot and Jerry Butler say they had no knowledge of a document that was shown to the current and previous Board of Supervisors last year. They first learned of this in January, and sent a FOIA request for the document to county administrator Ernest Hoch. But he refused to send them a copy. "The copy count was omitted from two Board of Supervisors members, and I did not think that was a right action for any board to take,” Butler said.

Chris Horner is deeply serious about his role as a climate-truth watchdog, but his sense of humor about his detractors is deliciously dark (Horner is among those who have FOIA’ed UVA for Michael Mann’s email). Since establishing himself in Washington as a Freedom of Information Act-wielding attorney and now a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Horner has been busy busting what he sees as absurd global warming claims and the federal government's deepening lack of transparency. Although Horner declined to discuss his home life or his family — he is married and a father — he does allow that he has been brazenly stalked, paparazzi-style — he fingers Greenpeace — by sleuths combing through his home garbage.  His response? Good old-fashioned dog poo placed strategically throughout his rubbish to snare privacy-invading foragers who remain determined to discredit him, excrement be damned.
Washington Examiner

National Stories

Attorneys for the city of Nitro will argue Monday before the West Virginia Supreme Court that a circuit judge erred by not allowing the city to charge $25 an hour to look up information to fulfill Freedom of Information Act requests. In 2009, the Nitro City Council approved an ordinance charging citizens $25 an hour if it took city officials more than 10 minutes to look up information to comply with FOIA requests. The fee was supposed to compensate the city for the time it took to collect the requested information.
Saturday Gazette-Mail

Members of Congress donated close to $500,000 from their own pockets to charity or gave it back to the U.S. Treasury amid the 16-day partial government shutdown last year,according to a Washington Post analysis. The Post kept a running tally last year of the lawmakers who said they would skip their own paychecks in solidarity with the thousands of federal workers who were furloughed during the budget impasse. Reporter Ed O’Keefe and his colleagues have circled back to the 237 lawmakers who originally said they wouldn’t accept their pay and have posted a detailed account of what happened to that money.
USA Today

D.C. police officers are not giving the proper information to people who ask about filing complaints against officers, the American Civil Liberties Union concluded after performing spot checks at city police stations. “Undercover investigators” from the ACLU of the Nation's Capital went to 10 D.C. police stations and substations in December to determine how officers would respond to requests for information on how to file a police compliant, said John Albanes, a fellow with the ACLU. Among the findings, officers at six of the 10 police stations failed to mention the Office of Police Complaints as a means to file a complaint. Citizens can make official complaints about police misconduct through either the department’s Internal Affairs Division or by contacting the Office of Police Complaints, a civilian-led independent oversight board.
Washington Times

Orders granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to allow the use of devices to secretly log the communications of suspected spies and terrorists underwent explosive growth after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but leveled off and began dropping around the middle of the last decade, newly disclosed documents show. The documents are semiannual reports to Congress from the Justice Department showing how often it obtained orders from the surveillance court for “pen registers and trap-and-trace” devices. They keep track of metadata about incoming and outgoing phone calls and emails, showing who was involved in a conversation and when it took place, but not the contents of the communication.
New York Times

The New Jersey Legislative Select Committee on Investigation has released further transcripts of email exchanges among officials involved in last September's closure of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge. The unredacted transcripts in general identify who was saying what, rather than providing statements that have not already been made public. "Upon review and discussion, it was agreed that many redactions were appropriate...but certain redacted information should be made public," said the committee co-chairs, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, and Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen.
New Jersey Law Journal

The Federal Communications Commission is pulling the plug on a controversial survey of TV newsroom activities that sparked a firestorm of criticism from Republicans. “The FCC will not move forward with the Critical Information Needs study,” an FCC spokesman said Friday. “The Commission will reassess the best way to fulfill its obligation to Congress to identify barriers to entry into the communications marketplace faced by entrepreneurs and other small businesses.” The study was to start this spring with a pilot test in Columbia, S.C., and it included questions about how TV stations determine what news stories to cover. It also sought insight into debates between journalists and management over news coverage.

A public policy research and information group has filed a lawsuit against the federal government over claims that it has denied its Freedom of Information Act requests seeking information on incidents involving nuclear weapons, nuclear components or radioactive material. The organization, called Speaking Truth to Power, filed a federal complaint in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on Feb. 27 naming as defendants the U.S. Defense Department, U.S. Air Force Combat Command, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff and U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration. The suit seeks the release of records of events identified as “Bent Spear” or “Dull Sword,” which are incidents the plaintiff maintains are public under Defense Department’s directives.
Pennsylvania Record