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Freedom of information plays role in current election cycle

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    NMU         ROUNDUP         Freedom of Information         Nov 4, 2002    

Freedom of information plays role in current election cycle

  • In races where candidates are deemed to be tightfisted or where candidates are proud of their record on open records issues, Freedom of Information is emerging as an issue.

Access to government information has emerged as a key issue in several key state and federal races around the country, particularly where candidates withheld or were perceived to be withholding information.

Candidates who refuse to release records have faced criticism from opponents who have made much of their opponents’ lack of transparency.

Open records became a major campaign issue in the Wisconsin attorney general race after Vince Biskupic, a candidate for Attorney General and current Outagamie County District Attorney refused to release financial records that the state Democratic party requested.

“This could be one of the issues that really makes a difference in this race,” said Scott Ross, communications director for Democrat Peg Lautenschlager’s campaign for Wisconsin Attorney General.

“Denying these documents made [the open records issue] more prominent in this race,” added Ross, whose campaign has emphasized Biskupic’s refusal to release the documents and who has taken him to court to force their release.

In the South Carolina governor’s race access to records became an important issue after Gov. Jim Hodges delayed the release of information requested by the state Republican party.

“We simply wanted to know where the cabinet has been and what they have been doing,” said Katon Dawson head of the South Carolina Republican Party. By mid-August the party also made a request under the state’s FOI Act to see the records related to ties between the governor’s former chief of staff and a private company.

The party also claims that after it made its requests, Gina Wood, the state Director of Juvenile Justice, ordered certain documents shredded to prevent their release.

These allegations have become an important political issue in the state, Dawson said. “It’s very important in any election to have an open exchange and open access to information. This should be unfettered and equal.”

In the Texas Senate race between Republican John Cornyn and Democrat Ron Kirk, open records have become a hot button for candidates to win political points.

“Ron Kirk has a twenty-year history of concealing information. He can’t then go to being an advocate of open government,” said Matt Winslow, policy director for the John Cornyn campaign, in that state’s hotly contested Senate race.

“A leopard cannot change his stripes,” Winslow added.

Cornyn has made open records a central part of his campaign. In a Sept. 30 speech, Cornyn said he would like to apply the FOI Act to Congress, and create a neutral third entity to supervise federal information requests. He also opposes the blanket exemption from the act for the Department of Homeland Security that the House of Representatives has approved.

The campaign has done much to highlight Cornyn’s good record on access to information.

“Kirk has refused to release his tax returns, Cornyn has released his for the past eight years. Kirk has also closed his fundraisers to the media and has refused to release his travel records. Cornyn has done both these things,” his headquarters says.


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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