Politics

Governors using virus as an excuse to ignore citizens

FOIA requests are being shuffled into bureaucratic irrelevance.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

At the heart of the American republic is the consent of the governed. That consent can not be freely given without proper information to make informed decisions. But then, there are many politicians who are not looking for freely given consent. They are looking for Pavlovian agreement and compliance. Thus, some are using the specter of coronavirus to deny citizens the proper tools to seek data. Specifically, they are denying Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in regard to government documents.

Adam Laxalt, a former Nevada attorney general and current outside counsel to Americans for Public Trust, commented on the issue in an opinion piece published on Fox News online: “Those entrusted to process FOIA requests perform a critical service that cannot go unfulfilled or under-fulfilled, even during times of crisis. However, despite the greater need for transparency in the wake of COVID-19, some governors have decided to withhold vital information and obstruct the FOIA process.”

To put this in political perspective, even the reliably loony prog New York Times is on the side of the angels on this one. The paper noted, “While the work of government continues, citizens are losing a fundamental right to transparency. That’s a threat to good government and democracy.”

Laxalt isn’t talking vague generalities; he has specific states in mind: “For example, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, D-MI, is using emergency powers provided during the pandemic to refuse a request by Americans for Public Trust. APT is seeking vital information pertaining to a state contract run by the Great Lakes Community Engagement, headed by a Michigan-based Democratic consultant and managed in coordination with EveryAction, a project of NGP VAN, which boasts that it’s the ‘leading technology provider to Democratic and progressive campaigns and organizations.’”

Governor Whitmer has stonewalled that request and even said those who criticized her policies were engaging in close to armed insurrection. Then she tried to slide a sweetheart backroom deal to her own campaign staff. When she was caught in the act she denied groups and citizens the right to access the documents that would prove it. In what kind of regime is that kind of action tolerated from an elected official? Presumably, not in America. However, these governors are using the cloak of the virus to play by different rules.

Laxalt notes other governors are not far from the example of Whitmer, explaining, “Governors David Ige, D-HI, and Tom Wolf, D-PA, are telling state officials to ignore FOIA requests until normal operations resume, which could be months from now. Governor Gina Raimondo, D-RI, is giving administrators a 40-day extension to comply with the FOIA claiming her press conferences provide all the disclosure needed right now (Ha!) and Governor Larry Hogan, R-MD, has given agencies discretion about when to respond to requests, allowing bureaucrats to freeze unfavorable reports for months.”

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Can you imagine the howl from the other side if a GOP governor, or President Trump, said that the only data the public needed on the virus was the words of state officials? Yet the Democrat governor of Rhode Island is politically safe and sound and paying no price for her little exercise in authoritarian government. But this is not solely a party issue. Governors of both major parties are at fault here. When the dust settles from this crisis, hopefully all of them will experience the negative consequences of their autocratic actions.

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