- FOIA is an essential law that ensures government transparency.
- After Blue Hog Report blogger Matt Campbell filed FOIA requests seeking information about Sarah Sanders’ travel companions and spending, Arkansas State Police refused to turn over some relevant information.
- Campbell sued, and at the direction of the Governor, the legislature will now consider sweeping changes to Arkansas’ FOIA laws in the name of safety and efficiency.
- After Friday’s press conference, Sanders’ team immediately began a distraction campaign and are claiming that this was planned as a result of AG Griffin’s FOIA working group, but it’s not: she’s hiding something.
The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has been a bedrock of democratic participation in our state since its passage in 1967. It allows any Arkansas citizen to hold our state government accountable; The FOIA requires public officials to turn over certain documents and information if citizens ask for them.
We’re not surprised, then, to hear that in the wake of revelations that Sarah Huckabee Sanders possibly misused travel funds and tried to hide who was on the Arkansas State Police plane she took to Jonesboro, the anti-transparency extremists in the legislature who are at her beck and call are closing ranks to gut FOIA.
We had a suspicion this was going to happen.
We’ll dive into the mechanics of how FOIA works and how the legislators will darken Arkansas’ sunshine laws once the special session bills are officially filed, but right now, we want to focus on something else: how this entire mess is targeted at one man.
Blogger Matt Campbell, known as Blue Hog Report, is a well-known presence in Arkansas political news. This summer, he began submitting a series of FOIA requests to try and get a handle on what the Arkansas State Police (ASP) were paying to protect the Governor and her family, who was in her entourage while she traveled, and ultimately, what all this was costing Arkansas taxpayers.
While the ASP gave him some of this information, they withheld information about who was traveling with Sanders and some of the expense reports, claiming that revealing that information would endanger the Governor’s safety. In the Governor’s press conference on Friday morning, this was a big part of the official reasoning.
How this could endanger her safety for a trip that already happened, we aren’t sure, and some reporters at the press conference had the same question. Campbell agreed, so he sued for the records.
We don’t have the details yet on what the exact changes will be, but it looks like legislators will do the Governor’s bidding – again – and make it harder for Campbell to see these records.
Isn’t it incredible how scared they are of just one man exercising his right to force government transparency?
This is the power of Arkansans when we stand up and hold the government accountable. So much of our tax money is about to be used to pay lawmakers’ per diems just so one guy won’t get to know who was on the Governor’s plane. We’re so curious to know what she’s hiding.
It’s also fascinating to notice it’s yet another attempt to copy Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. This summer, DeSantis did almost the exact same thing via executive order to hide similar kinds of travel records.
We can assume that the Governor’s loyalists will have a distraction campaign in place to try and avoid the issue. They’ll probably make hay about AG Griffin’s creation in June (around the time Campbell’s first FOIA requests started coming out) of a FOIA working group to examine the effects of new technology on FOIA, and they’ll claim that the upcoming special session changes are a result of that working group’s recommendations. They’ll try to focus on the Governor’s safety and “making government more efficient.”
Don’t be fooled: They’re attempting to limit Arkansans’ ability to hold our government accountable, and we won’t stand for it. This isn’t about efficiency, and this isn’t about keeping the Governor safe. She’s already safe, evidenced by the fact the ASP has successfully prevented some disturbed individuals from harming her, and the FOIA laws work just fine when government agencies don’t illegally withhold records and create a cause of action for lawsuits.
The government is using our tax money – taxes which are about to fall even more heavily on the middle class once they’re done cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy, by the way – to pay lawmakers’ per diem, to pointlessly defend against Campbell’s FOIA suit, and, apparently, to hide whatever Sarah Huckabee Sanders doesn’t want us to know.
Not on our watch.