Transparency News 5/28/14

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

State and Local Stories

School officials in Isle of Wight were told repeatedly that federal wage information needed to be included in the bid and contract documents for the construction of a new middle school in Windsor, according to emails obtained by the Daily Press. Under Virginia's Freedom of Information Act, the Daily Press requested emails to or from Andreu, Bradshaw and Paul Burton — a former county attorney who became the school system's attorney in October 2011 — concerning the Davis-Bacon act and the job documents between March 2011 and the end of September 2011. The school system provided more than 430 pages of emails. The division withheld another 110 pages, citing an exception to the open records law for attorney-client privilege.
Daily Press

National Stories

An Amber Alert is designed to get the public's attention in the most urgent child abduction cases...but there's sometimes confusion over why it is used in some cases and not in others. Local law enforcement contacts the Georgia Bureau of Investigations to see if a missing child case meets the criteria. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request -the GBI provided documentsshowing the agency has been asked to assist in approximately 115 missing child cases since the beginning of 2010. Though not always requested, an Amber Alert was issue in 41 of those.

Giving legislative branch records to the National Archives and Records Administration (an executive branch agency) does not change those records’ status, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week.
Court Listener

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear an appeal by a man facing trial for a high-profile mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater in 2012 over his lawyers' attempt to force a Fox News reporter to testify. The court's refusal to hear James Holmes' appeal leaves intact a December 2013 New York Court of Appeals ruling that said reporter Jana Winter did not have to disclose details about her sources.

Data brokers that collect, analyze and sell huge amounts of information on the activities of consumers for marketing purposes operate with “a fundamental lack of transparency,” the Federal Trade Commission said in a report. The report is the result of a lengthy investigation of the data-broker industry, and it recommends that Congress enact legislation that requires the companies to disclose more information about themselves and the data they collect.
New York Times

Attention, reader comment-board trolls: News sites are getting tough on your crude, your rude and your sometimes lewd postings. Faced with the unbounded id of anonymous readers who can’t resist posting nasty comments under online articles, some news sites are taking steps to rein in the verbal bile. And some, tired of the mess that occurs when free speech gets a little too free, are ending reader comments altogether.
Washington Post

The Supreme Court unanimously held Tuesday that Secret Service officials could not be sued by protesters who alleged a First Amendment violation for being moved away from then-President George W. Bush while Bush supporters were allowed to remain. Steven R. Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, expressed disappointment over the Court's decision. While the ACLU recognizes the obvious need for security surrounding the president, he said "that does not include the right to shield the President from criticism . . . . In our view, the jury should have been allowed to decide whether this case was actually about security or censorship."
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. hinted Tuesday that the Justice Department might choose not to jail a New York Times reporter for defying a subpoena forcing him to discuss his confidential sources — even as the Obama administration continues to pursue the right to do so before the Supreme Court. Mr. Holder made the suggestion in a meeting on Tuesday with a group of journalists he convened to discuss press-freedom issues after an uproar last year over investigative tactics in leak cases. During the discussion, Mr. Holder was asked about the subpoena to the reporter, James Risen, that requires him to testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former Central Intelligence Agency official. Prosecutors say Mr. Sterling was a source for a chapter in “State of War,” the book Mr. Risen published in 2006.
New York Times


Just before the Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed bipartisan ethics legislation. The measure, which passed both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously, would have prohibited the governor or his campaign arms from taking gifts worth $50 or more from anybody looking to get a handout from the Governor’s Development Opportunity Fund. The governor’s office also expressed concern that tracking donations from companies applying for grants might reveal their identity, which is supposed to be secret. One easy fix to that dilemma would be to reject all donations from all companies, period. But that’s just crazy talk.

Unfortunately, Gov. Terry McAuliffe's veto last week of a separate ethics-related bill underscored how absurd, and how petty, the legislative process can be on matters related to politics and money. Lawmakers, of course, have already showed their disinterest in cutting themselves off from the stream of gifts - tangible, and especially non-tangible, such as meals and travel and entertainment - offered to them. The ethics package that becomes law July 1 is riddled with loopholes that, while giving the appearance of serious reform, will ultimately carry little weight. McAuliffe's suggested amendment would've made accepting any gift potentially perilous for lawmakers, who aren't involved in awarding grants from the Governor's Development Opportunity Fund. By vetoing the bill, the governor wins by avoiding the added scrutiny over his administering grants from the fund. Lawmakers win by being permitted to abide by the paltry ethics reform package they crafted. And, as usual, the public loses.

If Gov. Terry McAuliffe wants to further his campaign pledge to push tougher ethics laws — and distinguish himself as, well, not former Gov. Bob McDonnell — vetoing a bill that would have curbed his ability to take campaign cash from companies or local officials vying for economic development grants from his office probably isn’t helping.
Kathryn Watson, Virginia Bureau

You don’t start a dialogue with FOIA requests. This is a blatant effort at deterring public participation by anyone who does not hew 100% to the most radical version of the gay rights movement. The good news is that the FOIA request might not get very far.  Earlier this year the Virginia Supreme Court rejected efforts by conservative groups to obtain e-mail correspondence and other records from controversial climate scientist Michael Mann.  In its opinion the Court explained it would not read the Virginia open records law in a way that would place public universities at a competitive disadvantage with private universities. If the students truly want to start a dialogue — then they should actually start a dialogue.  This requires actually engaging with the substance of Professor Laycock’s views and bringing something to the table other than their suppositions about how particular legal rules may affect their immediate policy concerns.  Thus far, all they’ve delivered is the posture of entitlement and the tactics of thugs.
Jonathan Adler, Washington Post