Same-day service! Governor’s office wastes no time saying “no” to request from ProgressNow and Progress Michigan.
Regular readers of Eclectablog know that Chris Savage has been regularly calling out Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on his lack of transparency. You can read some of that coverage HERE, HERE and HERE. And Chris is not the only one.
Gov. Snyder promised transparency from his administration, but time after time has thrown up smokescreens, if not brick walls, to prevent the public from hearing the whole story — especially when it comes to his now-infamous NERD Fund powered by secret donors and his dealings with corporatists who seem to have their fingers in everything from privatizing education to busting unions. Gov. Snyder continues dodging questions about these issues like potholes on a Michigan road.
Now the Snyder administration is hiding behind yet another curtain. Last week, ProgressNow announced a new effort to root out corruption in state administrations with its multi-state Executive Accountability Project. Through its state affiliates like Progress Michigan, ProgressNow has made Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking transcripts of email conversations between governors and their chiefs of staff in Iowa, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida — and Michigan.
Via Progress Michigan, ProgressNow sent an email request on March 25 to Gov. Snyder’s Deputy Legal Counsel, David Murley, asking for transcripts of email correspondence between Gov. Snyder and his Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore. The response was swift and unequivocal, says Progress Michigan Communications Director Hugh Madden.
They responded by mail the same day. The letter said, ‘As you may be aware, the Governor’s office is expressly exempt from FOIA’s coverage.’ Then it goes on to say, ‘Because of this exemption we will not be responding to your request.’
We think government should be as open as possible with the people. The chief of staff is the governor’s point person in state government, and the public has a right to know how their elected officials operate.
Madden points out that although the governor’s office and the legislature are exempt from FOIA requests, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re prohibited from releasing the communications. “I don’t think the average person knows about the exemption,” he says. “If the governor and the legislature are exempt from FOIA, that doesn’t work very well.”
The evasion continued at the April 7 Pancakes and Politics event in Detroit, where Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson asked Gov. Snyder why he doubled his cousin’s furniture contract with the state to $41 million, while cutting education and placing new taxes on middle-class families and seniors. Gov. Snyder refused to address the question.
Here’s what Johnson had to say after the event:
Republican Gov. Snyder is still dodging the $41 million question. … This governor’s use of the secret NERD Fund to ensure special treatment for his cousin and for campaign donors gives new meaning to the phrase ‘friends and family first.’ That’s why this governor and his NERD Fund need to be investigated immediately.
Progress Michigan is determining next steps in its accountability project, which we’ll report on here. In the meantime, ProgressNow continues working to uncover information pertinent to other transparency-troubled administrations.
“The entire Bridgegate scandal didn’t come from an agency — it was inside Chris Christie’s office,” says Madden. “Imagine how much easier it would be if we had access to those records.”
According to ProgressNow, this is the first time a watchdog has pursued these types of conversations in a systematic way for accountability purposes. ProgressNow Executive Director Arshad Hasan had this to say in a release:
From closed bridges in New Jersey to favors for polluters in North Carolina, Americans are tired of watching governor after governor misuse their public office for personal and political gain. It is time we shed a light on the egregious access that special interests and lobbyists have to our states’ top elected officials. The public has the right to know how these elected officials, who serve at the behest of the people, are operating behind closed doors.
This is an opportunity for these Governors to restore public confidence in their offices and actions as executives. We look forward to their cooperation.
So far, the response from Gov. Snyder’s office has been less than confidence-inspiring. Which, given his track record, is not at all surprising.
[Caricature by DonkeyHotey from photos by Anne C. Savage for Eclectablog]