Transparency News 7/23/13


Tuesday, July 23, 2013
State and Local Stories’s Virginia Bureau has filed a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act for information about Virginia Retirement System investments with Star Scientific. VRS, which manages billions of dollars in state employee pensions, bought hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Star Scientific stock in August 2012. Over the next few months, VRS sold the stock at a loss of $87,000, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Virginia Bureau

Even as questions are being raised about law enforcement's use of license plate scanners, more are popping up in Hampton Roads. Recently, scanners were placed near the James River Bridge, as well as the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel and Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, by a regional group of law enforcement, though none of the scanners are collecting data at the moment, according to a Norfolk police spokesman. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a report on Wednesday that was critical of the scanners, saying the devices "present a real threat to Virginians' privacy."
Daily Press

Four days after the deadline, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor E.W. Jackson amended his midyear campaign finance disclosure to list 23 donors whose names were not included in his original report filed July 15. The amended report — filed with the State Board of Elections on Friday — listed total donations between May 30 and June 30 of $141,823, up from $118,608 from his original filing.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has advised the Virginia Port Authority that a provision in the state's lobbying law does not prohibit the port from paying a lobbyist to represent it in Washington. Cuccinelli issued the July 19 opinion in response to a request from William H. Fralin Jr., the chairman of the Port Authority board. Fralin sought the attorney general's advice after learning of a "government relations" arrangement involving Moffatt & Nichol, the authority's engineering consultants, and Federal Advocates Inc., a Washington lobbying firm, during conversations with Port Authority staffers before a May 28 board meeting.

The University of Virginia’s chief operating officer will lead a task force reviewing policies and procedures to protect personal information following a massive error that resulted in 18,700 students’ Social Security numbers being printed on an insurance brochure sent across the country. President Teresa A. Sullivan announced the move late Monday afternoon in a statement emailed to faculty and staff. Pat Hogan, UVa’s executive vice president and COO, will lead the task force, Sullivan’s statement said.
Daily Progress

Gov. Bob McDonnell announced a partnership between the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and the Virginia Department of Health allowing DMV to issue birth certificates beginning next March 1. Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, DMV will also issue certified copies of all death, marriage and divorce records. The partnership stems from Lynchburg Sen. Steve Newman’s vital records bill passed during the 2013 General Assembly session.

National Stories

A secret document obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveals for the first time the Pakistan government's internal assessment of dozens of drone strikes, and shows scores of civilian casualties. The United States has consistently claimed only a tiny number of non-combatants have been killed in drone attacks in Pakistan – despite research by the Bureau and others suggesting that over 400 civilians may have died in the nine-year campaign. The internal document showsPakistani officials too found that CIA drone strikes were killing a significant number of civilians - and have been aware of those deaths for many years.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has a new policy on Facebook and other social media — and it’s already drawing criticism. WISH-TV reports the new policy prohibits profanity, obscenity, nudity and other objectionable content. It also encourages users to be civil and that political views and philosophies should be taken elsewhere. That last part is drawing criticism.
Journal Courier

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz confirmed Friday that it was her office that released emails to The Associated Press that led to news stories about former Indiana  Gov. Mitch Daniels’ 2010 temper tantrum, in which he demanded answers about Indiana’s use of a history textbook he found objectionable. But, Ritz said, she had no personal knowledge of the emails and her staff was simply following public records law that requires disclosure in response to a valid request.
Indianapolis Star

A member of the Kansas State Board of Education says a confidentiality agreement that Kansas educators signed during the development of new science standards made the process nontransparent — a claim that those involved in the process reject. Ken Willard, one of two members on the state board to vote against the Next Generation Science Standards, says the agreement not to divulge details of the standards during much of the development process was problematic.
Topeka Capital-Journal

Maine Gov. Paul LePage wanted to hire the winner of the 2011 Miss Maine USA pageant to promote career and technical education, an idea the state’s education commissioner firmly rejected, according to emails requested by a central Maine newspaper. “All of a sudden, we are supposed to hire some beauty queen with, from what I can tell, no CTE knowledge or background, and bring her on board to fill a position we don’t have and have never had,” education chief Stephen Bowen wrote on Dec. 17, 2011, after the subject was broached by one of LePage’s advisers.  “Well, I can’t let that happen,” Bowen wrote in the emails, first reported by the Kennebec Journal. “I’m not going to be the one sitting in front of Appropriations defending hiring Miss Maine while we cut subsidy to schools and fend off complaints that we have always seem to have money squirreled away somewhere when we need it.”
Bangor Daily News

Rutgers University President Robert Barchi sent members of his senior staff a memo this month, nearly a year into his tenure, instructing them to keep him out of the university’s business dealings with two corporations that pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars to sit on their advisory boards. The July 9 memo, released by the university on Friday, was sent to about a dozen top administrators on the same day that Rutgers released documents to The Record showing it had paid the companies millions of dollars since 2008. Its timing suggests that Barchi and other university officials recognized the potential for the appearance of a conflict of interest even before a debate over the arrangement went public, and took steps to get ahead of the controversy.
The Record

Climate scientist Michael Mann's libel suit against National Review has survived an effort to dismiss the case brought under the District of Columbia law barring strategic lawsuits against public participations, or SLAPPs. Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, accused the conservative publication of defaming him by running an article last summer that accused him of fraud in his research. The piece drew comparisons between a Penn State investigation into his research and the school's investigation of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of child molestation.
Blog of LegalTimes

Just as Huey Long would have been called out in the age of YouTube, so too has Baptist Minister Ergun Caner. His reputation suffered as a result of fellow Christians picking apart his autobiography, and he was demoted by Liberty. Years later, he seems to have decided to repair his image, and has launched a crusade to remove his videos from the internet. So far, his weapon of choice has been the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Earlier this month, he stepped up his game by filing an unusual lawsuit that has serious implications for the Freedom of Information Act. It stems from a gathering on April 15, 2005, when a unit of U.S. Marines invited Caner to provide "cultural training" for its service members preparing for deployment. (That the Marines chose Caner of all people is a scandal unto itself.) That speech was recorded, and a copy of it was requested under the Freedom of Information Act. The request was granted, and the U.S. government released it into the public domain. In 2010, a Christian blogger named Jason Smathers posted the speech on his website. Last month, Caner filed suit against Smathers claiming copyright infringement. Suddenly you have a problem that affects us all.
The Week


Daily Progress: Personal information isn’t safe. Oh, you thought we were talking about the National Security Agency again? Sorry, no. We’re talking about our own University of Virginia — and businesses associated with it. This is not the first time UVa has offered such services to those whose information has been compromised, because it is not the first time UVa has dealt with the unintended exposure of information.

Gene Policinski, First Amendment Center: Don’t like the latest Rolling Stone magazine, featuring “glam, rock-star” photo treatment on the cover of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? Don’t buy the magazine. A simple, First Amendment-friendly response. Quick, direct and easy to accomplish. And some outlets like drug and convenience stores are helping with the decision by refusing to stock the current issue on their shelves, responding to criticism that it glorifies the accused or insults the bomb victims and their families. Still, there’s no conflict here with free press or free speech on either side. The editors at Rolling Stone get to choose whatever they want as the cover image — nothing in the 45 words of the First Amendments sets standards or guidelines for their decision. And as long as it’s private companies like CVS and Walgreens, and not the government leaving that space vacant on the magazine rack, no problem there.