Case Number: CV-2022-779
Court: Oklahoma County District Court
Clients: Oklahoma Watch, Inc. and Paul Monies
Petition for Relief Filed: April 26, 2022
Background: In 2020, the State of Oklahoma received more than $1 billion from the federal government to support the state’s measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Reviews by the Oklahoma State auditor and inspector and the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency found irregularities in the distribution of funds by the state, as well as a lack of transparency, accountability and oversight.
In 2021, Oklahoma was awarded an additional $3.1 billion from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, of which more than $1.8 billion was allocated for state-level investments. The state developed an online portal through which any person could submit proposals, projects or ideas for the federal funds. As of April 1, 2022, the portal had received a total of more than 1,400 submissions, collectively requesting nearly $18 billion in funding.
In March 2022, Paul Monies, a reporter for the nonprofit investigative news outlet Oklahoma Watch, submitted a public records request to the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services seeking a copy of all submissions to the funding request portal. The agency, which serves as the state’s central finance agency (among other roles), denied his request, arguing the proposals should be considered confidential — some temporarily and others indefinitely.
On behalf of Oklahoma Watch and Monies, Reporters Committee Local Legal Initiative Attorney Kathryn E. Gardner filed a lawsuit pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Records Act asking the Oklahoma County District Court to order OMES to turn over the records. Gardner argued release of the records was in line with the public records law, served the public interest, and would allow the news media and the public to evaluate the decisions of and performance by government officials entrusted with distributing funding.
Quote: “OMES has provided no legitimate basis to deny the press, or the public, prompt and reasonable access to these records,” Gardner said. “With billions of public dollars on the line, the public has a right to review every proposal regardless of whether it is ultimately granted funding.”