GOPocrisy, Michigan Republicans — October 8, 2015 at 10:35 am

BREAKING: Proof emerges that Attorney General Bill Schuette wields FOIA fees like a weapon against transparency & open government

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Bombshell news coming via Progress Michigan this morning detailing how Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is using fees for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to interfere with government transparency.

Earlier this year, Progress Michigan asked the state government for copies of all communications between Paul Pastorek, one of Snyder’s education advisers, and employees of the Michigan Department of Education, Education Achievement Authority and Michigan Department of Treasury. Pastorek was the state superintendent of schools in Louisiana from 2007-2011 and he has been widely criticized for his handling of schools there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina which obliterated many of the neighborhoods and their schools in New Orleans.

In response, the Department of Treasury told them they could have the information with one caveat: it came with a $52,000 price tag. The Department of Education and the Education Achievement Authority provided the information without cost.

This morning, Progress Michigan revealed that Schuette directed the Department of Treasury to use the exorbitant fees to scare off (“cry wolf” in their inaccurately chosen words) Progress Michigan:

Documents obtained by Progress Michigan through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office is advising state departments to use a “fee approach” to deny access to records requests by charging exorbitant fees for easily searchable documents.

Portions of the document in question were supposed to be redacted, but were actually legible through the ink. The documents were part of a FOIA request seeking documents regarding department communications surrounding another FOIA request by Progress Michigan.

Here is the text of the relevant email sent by Terry Stanton of the Treasury Department on April 1st of this year (the portions in bold italics were supposed to be redacted but were clumsily left legible):

I wanted to share this with you, in case other departments received similar FOIA requests from Hugh Madden with Progress Michigan, ie “copies of all communications with Paul Pastorek, education adviser.” Given the incredibly broad nature of the request, and per advice from the AG, the response carries a $52k fee. This may cause them to “cry wolf.”

Our initial plan was to deny, given the broad nature of the request…but the AG preferred the fee approach.

“Progress Michigan has continuously called for FOIA reform and has on more than one occasion pointed to high fees as simply a mechanism to deter public scrutiny,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “This is one of the times I wish I didn’t have to say we told you so, but we told you so. There is no excuse for this behavior and intentional lack of transparency.”

“There’s clearly an epidemic of high-level elected officials abusing and hiding behind FOIA. Over the past two years, we’ve identified numerous circumstances where FOIA laws were either skirted or broken,” Scott continued. “It’s time we did an overhaul of how our state’s open record laws operate.”

Scott finished by saying, “The man who was elected to be ‘the people’s attorney’ is working behind the scenes to deter people’s right to access public information. This is a shameful display of disdain for accountability and transparency from Bill Schuette and the Snyder administration.”

While many have suspected the state government to use excessive fees to avoid transparency, this bald-faced admission that they are doing so is outrageous, particularly coming from the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder who promised greater government transparency in his first gubernatorial campaign in 2010.

Meanwhile, the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is calling for an IRS investigation into Michigan Advocacy Trust, claiming that the group has spent millions of dollars on pro-Schuette ads without reporting its donors:

A national watchdog group is calling for an investigation into a tax-exempt Michigan political organization, saying it has spent millions on TV ads featuring Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, targeting his opponents, but failing to disclose any of its donors as required by law.

In a complaint sent Wednesday to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) claims the Michigan Advocacy Trust has violated federal law by not telling the IRS or the Michigan Secretary of State how much it has spent on political ads or who its contributors are.

The group’s spokesman had probably the most evasive response you could imagine:

But while CREW and its supporters, including Rich Robinson at the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, argue that the Michigan Advocacy Trust, or MAT, appears to be skirting the law, MAT’s founder, Lansing lawyer Richard McLellan, insists it is on firm legal footing, even if he won’t explain specifically how.

“The answer is we make no contributions and we make no expenditures,” said McLellan, who has served in various posts for Republican presidents and governors, acted as senior counsel for Schuette’s 2010 transition team and has a reputation as a campaign legal expert.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I know the lawyers for the Michigan Advocacy Trust have given us good legal advice and we have filed all the (required) reports,” he said. He added cryptically that, in the “subtleties” between federal and state law “what the Michigan Advocacy Trust is doing is lawful.”

What a surprise that a group connected with Bill Schuette is manipulating the system to benefit their candidate. After all, Bill Schuette knows a little bit about that himself.

Adding… this news comes on top of news yesterday that Schuette’s one-man crusade to use tax dollars in his war against the LGBT community has just cost Michigan taxpayers $1.9 million. He was forced to pay the legal fees of the Michigan attorneys who fought for and won marriage rights for same-sex couples in America.

  • Susan Lyons Robertson

    “Cry wolf?” Sounds like he meant “Cry Uncle.”

    • Exactly. That’s why I called them “inaccurately chosen words”.

  • Michiganmitch

    “Pastorek was the state superintendent of schools in Louisiana from 2007-2011”. Why is it that Snyder thinks we should have someone who headed one of the worst educational systems in the United States on team-Michigan?

  • Ground_Zero

    Because of my first-hand experience with the Governor’s office and

    Bill Schuette, Michigan’s Attorney General, this article is about enough
    to send me right over the edge.

    Here’s a little bit of background …

    In July of 2008 I and another individual filed a lawsuit in Berrien
    County Court against the City of Benton Harbor, the Whirlpool
    Corporation and Harbors Shores Community Redevelopment Development Inc.
    The action was taken in order to uphold the 2004 Consent Judgment that
    was intended to protect the remainder of Jean Klock Park, forever, from
    further development; in this case a golf course. Not surprisingly, with
    politics in play, the lawsuit was dismissed in both the County Court and
    the Michigan Court of Appeals. In March of 2010 we filed an Application
    for Leave to Appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court which we always
    felt was our best chance of prevailing.

    In June of 2010 Jeff Fettig, the CEO of Whirlpool, and a host committee that included Congressman Fred Upton, State Rep Al Pscholka and other well establishedlocal figures, threw a reception for Bill Schuette at the Harbor Shores
    Golf Club, helping to raise tens of thousands of dollars for his
    campaign. In the meantime the Michigan Supreme Court took a very hard
    look at our case and on September 15, 2010 Ordered that our Application
    for Leave to Appeal be considered by the court – finally showing that
    our case did in fact have merit.

    Initially our hearing was scheduled for December, 2010. Unfortunately, because it was an election year, the newly elected (and appointed) justices wanted to hear the caseinstead so it was rescheduled for January of 2011. After winning the lection one of Mr. Schuette’s first calls to duty was to issue an
    Amicus brief to the court (the very morning of our hearing) instructing
    them not to hear our case, essentially sabotaging any chance we may have
    had to save JKP. Returning the Whirlpool Harbor Shores campaign fund
    raising favor, maybe?

    Hmmmm… and then last year I filed a complaint with the AG’s office regarding a $1,000,000 road extension Harbor Shores was supposed to construct in Benton Harbor that was considered ”additional rent” in return for the leasing of 22 acres of JKP for the Harbor Shores golf course. The term in the lease agreement
    was effectively “deleted” by Tony Saunders, who at the time was Benton
    Harbor’s state appointed emergency manager. It was odd because the
    emergency manager had said all along that the Governor told him, “not to
    touch it”, meaning JKP; but a few days before he moves on he deleted a
    term of the lease agreement for the park? The deal was sealed when the
    AG’s office responded simply saying that the Department “does not
    object.” Wow, talk about making off like bandits! What a friend
    Whirlpool and Harbor Shores has in government offices because it appears
    our Governor and State Attorney General are working hard on their
    behalf.

    Luckily for all I don’t have time to go into MY FOIA debacle with Michigan’s DNR; another unscrupulous government “regulatory” office that deliberately screwed me out of $250 some bucks by giving me bunk documents that I didn’t request and refusing to make it right. In light of Eclectablog’s article I think I need to create a webpage detailing that nasty little ordeal. At any rate, If this
    article is any indication of what’s to come in Michigan, the rest of us
    should be very afraid.

  • judyms9

    I pray the Dems can put forth a strong gubernatorial candidate in 2018. We need a rompin’ stompin’ law book bangin’ person who will highlight Schuette’s career as a go-fer and maitre’ d for the GOP cabal on the west side of the state.

  • disability-pride

    The previous AG included non-profits operating with more than
    50% public funds as covered under FOIA and OMA, but this AG’s position is that
    they are not obligated to comply. The problem is state government has spent the
    last 15 years contracting with non-profits to provide public services and the
    result is many millions of taxpayer dollars are being distributed to entities
    who now claim zero accountability to the public. This is bad policy. My local
    CIL is 98% publicly funded with state and federal dollars to the tune of
    $750,000. but has refused to hold meetings open to the public or to disclose
    decision making policies/practices. They get our tax dollars but assert we have
    no business questioning how those dollars are used. This scenario is repeated a
    thousand times over across the state. This lack of respect for the public’s
    support of community services allows flagrant abusive of the
    “non-profit” tax exempt system and the misuse of taxpayer dollars.

  • Alex Sagady

    Great work, Eclectablog!

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