Your FOIA In Action (Editorial)

by Arkansas Business Editors  on Monday, Sep. 23, 2013 12:00 am  

We’ll leave it to the professionals to determine whether Paul Bookout, the former state senator who has admitted to misusing campaign funds, should be charged with a crime (although we’ll confess things aren’t looking good).

Ditto for whether Lt. Gov. Mark Darr’s campaign reports amount to worse than exceptionally shoddy bookkeeping.

What we do know is this: Without the state Freedom of Information Act — underused by most Arkansans — we wouldn’t know about either of these cases.

Underused by most Arkansans, the FOI is a powerful tool for journalists, a powerful regulator on government and a powerful weapon for political operatives. A left-leaning blogger, Matt Campbell of Blue Hog Report, seems to have made it his life’s mission to ferret out any problem or even potential problem in Republican Darr’s financial reporting. But opposition research is also what brought down Bookout, a Democrat. It was Tim Griffin, now a Congressman, who in his role as an opposition researcher for George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign famously said, “We make the bullets.”

When we think of FOI workmanship, one amateur masterpiece always comes to mind: Thomas McAfee, the Razorback fan from Searcy, whose first-ever FOI request, sent to the University of Arkansas in 2006, turned up 500 pages of phone records showing the texting habits (although not the texts themselves) by then-Razorbacks Coach Houston Nutt.

The UA is now embroiled in a different and far more substantive FOI controversy than who Nutt texted and when. John Diamond, fired as the university’s chief spokesman, told legislators under oath that Chancellor G. David Gearhart had ordered the destruction of documents that should have been turned over under the FOI.

Finding out if that really happened — Gearhart denies it — may be more important than the $4 million budgeting debacle that brought Diamond in front of legislators to begin with.

 

 

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