Transparency News 6/10/13


Monday, June 10, 2013     State and Local Stories


The Republican Party of Virginia is using the Virginia Freedom of Information Act to obtain information about concealed handgun permittees a few weeks before the data would be sealed under a new law championed by one of its statewide candidates, a gun-rights advocate confirmed Friday. Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said he had heard from members and a court clerk that a batch of FOIA requests had been sent by the GOP in recent days seeking to obtain names, addresses and other information about concealed weapon permit holders.
Washington Post
Joseph Waymack heard about the request while at work at the Hopewell Commonwealth's Attorney's Office Friday morning. He immediately sent a competing letter to the Prince George Circuit Court. Waymack lives in Prince George and has his concealed weapons permit through the circuit court there. Waymack also sent a letter to the Republican Party of Virginia asking them to rescind their request. Waymack says if the RPV doesn't rescind their request, he plans to file a lawsuit against the group Monday.
Response to RPV request from Southampton County Clerk of Court
Virginia Coalition for Open Government

Last June’s dismissal and eventual reinstatement of University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan is changing the way the school’s Board of Visitors does business.
That includes planned shifts in how the board fires a president. Those include requiring public notice of a hearing and a vote of the full board, with two-thirds support needed for removal. The faculty has gained more input, and there are more specifics on how the president’s performance is to be reviewed. The board also has opened up some committees to non-voting faculty representatives. Critics hope it will lead to more openness in the board’s deliberations.
Daily Progress
The election of William Goodwin as vice rector on the UVA Board of Visitors “is something that worries me,” chair of UVA’s Department of Politics David Leblang said, “if only because he has gone on record as saying he doesn’t like” the Freedom of Information Act. Goodwin in September assailed Cohen during a board meeting for continuing to ask questions about why the board sought Sullivan’s removal. In March, after The Washington Post disclosed emails showing continuing tension between Dragas and Sullivan, Goodwin told the paper that the FOIA was a “deterrent” to the board’s work. Goodwin maintains his comments on FOIA have been “totally misunderstood.” “My point is that there are some very difficult issues” that are made more difficult by having to discuss them in open session, he said. “I do think FOIA is a little confining.” But he said “we are very mindful of the law. We understand it and we’re going to abide by it.”

The University of Virginia Press announced Friday it is putting the papers of six Founding Fathers on the Internet. The official launch of Founders Online is set for Thursday at the National Archives in Washington. The URL for the new website will be announced at that time.

A Virginia state delegate has confirmed that he’s been called to appear next month as a witness before a federal grand jury as part of an investigation related to Gov. Bob McDonnell. Del. David I. Ramadan, R-Loudoun, declined to comment further, saying that the federal subpoena prohibits him from disclosing its details, which might reveal what authorities are seeking from the first-term legislator.

A current and a former state lawmaker said the Virginia Port Authority's decade-long federal lobbying activity runs afoul of a 1994 bill barring agencies in the commonwealth from hiring lobbyists. The law states employing an outside lobbyist "by an officer, board, institution or agency of the Commonwealth is expressly prohibited." But starting at least as early as 2003, the port authority hired a federal lobbyist through Moffatt & Nichol, one of its contractors. The arrangement, which was first reported by the Daily Press, was carried out without the knowledge of current members on the agency's governing board, according to one commissioner.   It also surprised lawmakers, including one who helped craft the bill containing the prohibition.
Daily Press

The Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in Virginia, Chesapeake pastor E.W. Jackson, has a long history of financial and legal troubles, including his repeated failure to pay taxes in Massachusetts and Virginia, The Washington Examiner has learned. Jackson's money problems extend back 30 years to when he was a young lawyer in Massachusetts, but continued into last year, when he was running for the U.S. Senate in Virginia, records show.

National Stories

The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.
The Guardian
He called me BRASSBANNER, a code name in the double-barreled style of the National Security Agency, where he worked in the signals intelligence directorate. Verax was the name he chose for himself, “truth teller” in Latin. I asked him early on, without reply, whether he intended to hint at the alternative fates that lay before him. Edward Joseph Snowden, 29, knew full well the risks he had undertaken and the awesome powers that would soon be arrayed to hunt for him. Pseudonyms were the least of his precautions as we corresponded from afar. Snowden was spilling some of the most sensitive secrets of a surveillance apparatus he had grown to detest. By late last month, he believed he was already “on the X” — exposure imminent.
Washington Post

In response to the furor over reports of a classified surveillance program called PRISM, the U.S. director of National Intelligence has released a statement saying PRISM-related activities are "lawful" and "fully debated and authorized by Congress" and has issued a fact sheet on PRISM that says the government doesn't simply scoop information from company servers.

Amid the national debate over privacy and surveillance, the Justice Department is fighting a civil liberties group's effort to obtain a copy of a lengthy, secret court ruling that declared government monitoring of communications unlawful. The Justice Department on Friday filed papers in the Washington-based Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, saying "there is good reason not to vacate the seal on the opinion." The ruling—sealed by the surveillance court, and considered classified by the executive branch—is at the center of a Freedom of Information Act case pending in Washington federal district court.
Blog of Legal Times

An appeals court ruled Friday that the U.S. Trade Representative can withhold a classified position paper prepared during free-trade negotiations, reversing a lower court that had ordered the document's release under a Freedom of Information Act request. The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the disclosure would reveal a position taken by the U.S. in the past. "It seems perfectly reasonable to think that could limit the flexibility of U.S. negotiators," wrote Judge A. Raymond Randolph, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush. He was joined by Judges Janice Rogers Brown and Brett M. Kavanaugh, both appointees of President George W. Bush.
Seattle Times

A portion of the concealed carry bill that’s in the Illinois governor’s hands is coming under criticism.  The seven-person panel that would hear appeals from concealed carry applicants who are denied is, under the bill, exempt from the Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act requests.  Josh Sharp, the director of government relations for the Illinois Press Association, says that makes all of the board’s actions secretive.
Afton Daily News

A clash between a national conservative think tank and a liberal Wisconsin group that advocates for open records is raising questions about how much of the public’s business can be conducted behind closed doors. The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is being challenged by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and others for using file-hosting services to exchange documents with government officials, which shields their discussions from public view, the Wisconsin State Journal reported . ALEC, which writes legislation for state governments, also claims that its materials are not subject to Wisconsin’s open records law. But open records law advocates say there’s no legal way Wisconsin lawmakers could withhold ALEC materials from public view.
Green Bay Press


Times-Dispatch: Debates can help provide a fuller picture of a candidate, especially one who is not well-known. But they also can pose hazards for the unprepared, and even the most seasoned politicians can get tripped up. Modern debates also involve little actual debating — which requires a connected and sequential point-counterpoint dissection of a specific proposition. Instead, they resemble simultaneous press conferences in which the candidates recite scripted talking points and try not to say anything that could be taken out of context for a 30-second attack spot.

Virginian-Pilot: At the Department of Veterans Affairs, insults are piling up on injuries, insults, injuries and more insults. With each passing month, it seems, there's a major new breach in trust with the men and women who served their country in uniform. At a recent congressional hearing, the department's former chief information security officer said computer hackers have repeatedly gained access to a database containing personal information on roughly 20 million veterans.

Roanoke Times: A federal judge last week said she was shocked an assistant state attorney general is aiding big coal in a court battle against property owners in Virginia’s coalfields who are seeking to be paid for the gas the companies have taken. U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent found that Assistant Attorney General Sharon Pigeon, who advises the Virginia Gas and Oil Board, was assisting the defense. Sargent wrote: “Shockingly, these emails show that the Board, or at least Pigeon, has been actively involved in assisting EQT and CNX with the defense of these cases, including offering advice on and providing information for use on the Motions before the court.” Shocking, but not surprising, given Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s cozy relationship with the coal and gas companies.

Daily Progress: Revelations that the government also is monitoring Internet content came hard on the heels of the news about phone records. In this space, we’ve been warning for years about a secret NSA program that was capable of scanning and digesting vast amounts of communications data. It was believed that the program was scanning not just criminal or terrorist suspects, but regular everyday Americans as well. Now we have proof.

News Leader: Sometimes in the light of day, what seemed necessary during a crisis shows itself to be an obvious overreaction. Post 9/11, in our anger and our fear, this country made more than one hasty, fear-driven mistake. This week we Americans again faced our post 9/11 decisions, but this time the outrage [was] personal. The country learned that the National Security Agency is collecting phone records and watching Internet activity. Verizon and likely other phone companies have been supplying the records. Through its top-secret PRISM program, NSA also claims it has had direct access to servers of such tech giants as Google, Apple and Facebook since 2007. The tech companies deny knowledge of PRISM, much less agreement to cooperate.