Freedom of Information Under Red State Attack and Exploitation

ACORN Ethics Organizer Training Politicians

            New Orleans       Freedom of information has become one of the bedrock fundamentals of democratic government around the world.  In the United States, open records or freedom of information laws have been critical for decades for journalists and regular citizens trying to access any data or information from governments, local, state, and federal, on policies and communications that impact all aspects of their lives and work.  One of the first acts of autocratic regimes is to block information, so that they can govern behind closed doors.  A strange thing is happening in some Republican-led states, where governors and their administrations are either trying to restrict FOIA for specious reasons or are trying to weaponize such acts in order to punish enemies or instill fear in opponents.

In Arkansas, the early days of Governor Hutchinson Sanders were marked by her efforts to restrict or foreclose any access to her schedule, appointments, and other actions.  Arkansas has long had a robust open records act that many touted as a model for other states.  There was huge pushback even within the supermajority Republican legislature, so she was forced to modify her demands and drop some of the pretense that this had to do with security for her family and children.  Nonetheless, a modified version of sorts did pass.  Now there is an effort by good government forces there to put a stronger act back in force by putting it on the ballot and letting the voters decide.  Of course, this is being opposed as well, as some continue to want to operate in the dark.

In Louisiana, FOIA is being weaponized in what is now a lawsuit by the state against the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Then Attorney-General Jeff Landry, who is now governor, started this mess as one of his many political stunts.  He wanted to obtain emails and correspondence between activist groups in what is known as Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley.”  The EPA said it would take a year to comply.  Landry sued, and now the suit has been taken up by the new AG, his former aide.  The groups being targeted include many that were in ACORN’s community organizing training recently including RISE St. James and Concerned Citizens of St. John, as well as a bunch of newspapers.  All of this is a bullying effort to open up a front against the EPA and affected communities and their frontline organizations over the EPA’s ability to use “disparate impact” as a bulwark against environmental racism in plant siting and operations that poison and pollute these areas.  This tactic even earned editorial condemnation by the New Orleans papers.  Some activists even responded, “No problem, we’re glad to tell you exactly what we want, if you were willing to listen to us,” or words to that effect.

It’s ridiculous to use freedom of information to hide the hand that throws the rock, or to use freedom of information to in fact throw the rock.  Voters support open government, whether politicians like it or not.  There’s a reckoning that will come if elected keep messing with it.