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Wildlife group denied access to governor's lobbying records

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         ALASKA         Freedom of Information         Oct 27, 2000    

Wildlife group denied access to governor’s lobbying records

  • Communications between the governor and lobbyists about oil exploration in a refuge will be kept sealed as “pre-decisional” communications.

On Oct. 13, the Alaska Supreme Court denied a nonprofit organization access to copies of e-mail, media plans and memoranda relating to the governor’s lobbying efforts to open a national wildlife refuge to oil and gas development. The court said that releasing the records could chill open and frank discussion between the governor and congressional lobbyists.

Gov. Tony Knowles, who in January 1997 told the oil industry that Alaska was “open and ready for business,” has employed several lobbying firms to entice Congress into opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration.

The Gwich’in Steering Committee is a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting the lands inhabited by the porcupine caribou herd. In November 1997, the steering committee requested access to documents relating to the governor’s lobbying effort, including communications from his office to various lobbying interests and records of the plans to promote the development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The governor’s office released most of the documents, but denied the nonprofit group access to 13 records, claiming these were pre-decisional communications. After appealing to the governor’s chief of staff, the nonprofit group obtained five more records and when it appealed to the superior court, the governor’s office released yet another record. The superior court concluded that the remaining eight records were rightfully denied because they were pre-decisional communications and awarded the governor’s office $1,000 in attorneys’ fees and paralegal costs.

The Gwich’in group appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court which determined that all eight records were pre-decisional communications and their release would inhibit frank communications between the governor’s office and consultants.

However, because the Gwich’in group sued on behalf of the public interest, the high court decided that state law prevents its liability for the attorney’s fees of the governor’s office.

(Gwich’in Steering Committee v. State of Alaska, Office of the Governor) CC

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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