Transparency News 6/5/13


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

State and Local Stories

Some low-level State Corporation Commission employees have been allowed to spend up to $1 million with little direct oversight. Most purchases made by the independent agency’s employees at the division level — up to $999,999.99, technically — can go to the SCC accounting office without mid-level approval, per SCC policy, “unnecessarily” opening the doors for abuse, says a state audit report published online Monday. Ken Schrad, spokesman for the SCC, said purchases have always gone to directors for approval. But it wasn’t required under SCC policy. The SCC, because of the audit, has changed its policy so any purchase of $100,000 or more requires approval from a director, he said. For Delegate Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, the problems outlined in the audit highlight the need for the independent agency to be accountable through Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. The Virginia Supreme Court said the SCC doesn’t have to be, legally. Virginia Bureau

National Stories

Lawyers in Washington County, Penn., have expressed concerns that the installation of a courthouse microphone system aimed at cutting court reporting costs may have compromised attorney-client privilege. Some have even questioned whether the operation of the system has, at times, been in violation of the state's wiretap law.
Legal Intelligencer

Some of President Barack Obama's political appointees, including the secretary for Health and Human Services, are using secret government email accounts they say are necessary to prevent their inboxes from being overwhelmed with unwanted messages, according to a review by The Associated Press. The scope of using the secret accounts across government remains a mystery: Most U.S. agencies have failed to turn over lists of political appointees' email addresses, which the AP sought under the Freedom of Information Act more than three months ago. The Labor Department initially asked the AP to pay more than $1 million for its email addresses.

Prosecutors running a U.S. leak probe told the Associated Press about a seizure of the news agency's phone records within 90 days of taking them as it was required to do, a Justice Department official said on Tuesday. Peter Kadzik, a deputy assistant attorney general, wrote in a letter to lawmakers that the search was not secret, that the search of 2012 records was conducted in 2013, and that the department complied with its notification obligation.

A House committee approved legislation Tuesday to shut down the federal commission set up more than 10 years ago to help states improve their election systems. "This agency needs to go,'' said Mississippi Republican Rep. Gregg Harper, who introduced the bill to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission. "This agency has outlived its usefulness and to continue to fund it is the definition of irresponsibility.''
USA Today

Call it a bow the (temporary) ubiquity of Facebook. Or see it as a way to build a social media contact list. Either way, Rep. Eric Cantor has rolled out “,” the official aim of which is greater transparency. The homepage is pre-loaded with set of Republican bills (though, oddly, the sponsors of each bill, while named, are not identified by party). One can read the text of bills and where the bills stand in the legislative process. The obvious question, though, is what’s the point? All congressional legislation is currently available on THOMAS, a service maintained by the Library of Congress. In short, it’s a messaging tool. An interesting one, to be sure. But for those who still want just the facts, THOMAS and remain the ways to go.
Bearing Drift

A New York trial court ruled that The Wall Street Journal does not have to turn over years' worth of e-mail messages and reporter notes to business mogul Sheldon Adelson because those documents are protected by the state's shield law. Judge Donna M. Mills ruled in a four-page opinion last week that Adelson “failed to overcome the qualified privilege for non-confidential news gathering material” provided by the state shield law. Adelson claimed that the records could shed light on his defamation suit against a former employee who accused him of condoning prostitution. Wall Street Journal reporter Kate O’Keefe wrote about the prostitution accusation against Adelson in an article.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press


Times-Dispatch: First there was Bush Derangement Syndrome — a loathing of George W. Bush and his policies beyond all reason. Then came Obama Derangement Syndrome, which combines the fury of BDS with outlandish conspiracy theories. Now we see a new affliction: Citizens United Derangement Syndrome — CUDS, for short. CUDS is the most dangerous, for three reasons. First, derangement over a president ends when his administration does. Second, CUDS has gained more steam. Efforts to impeach Bush went nowhere. The same is true so far for Obama. But ostensibly serious people in positions of genuine power truly want to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United.

Jeff Schapiro, Times-Dispatch: The springtime of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s discontent is a sterling example of how to mismanage a public relations crisis. The latest forced disclosure — that first lady Maureen McDonnell was paid $36,000 to advise coal baron Jim McGlothlin on his philanthropies, a task for which she attended two or three meetings — is a reminder that McDonnell, his administration and family are being defined by events. For a skilled politician, it’s usually the other way around.

Michelle Malkin, Washington Times: Sun, sun, sun, here it comes. Welcome to the Summer of Belated Epiphanies. Media lapdogs are finally, finally arriving at the conclusion that maybe this isn't the most transparent administration in world history, after all.

Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times: Who exactly is the enemy in the continuing U.S. war against terrorism? In some cases, the answer is: It's a secret.