Monday, July 23, 2007

Spitzer Apology

A breaking headline tonight from the OD and AP "AG's probe: Spitzer aides plotted to discredit Bruno requires some reading between the lines.

According to the story, AG Cuomo concluded that Spitzer's top media spokesman, Darren Dopp, and homeland and public security chief William Howard "with the direct, unprecedented assistance of state Deputy Superintendent Preston Felton, conspired to release politically damaging information about Bruno's use of state aircraft, including trips that included political fundraisers." In a nutshell, the State Police created records of Sen. Bruno's travels -- allegedly in response to a Times Union FOIL request -- which were to be used to embarrass the Senator.

FOIL requires disclosure of existing documents, it does not require new ones to be produced. However, FOIL does not prevent new documents from being created to meet a request for information. The spirit of the Freedom of Information Law is open government -- as much information should be made public as possible. And if a particular request would demand that a new document be produced, while the law does not require that this be done, production would certainly be in the spirit of FOIL (full disclosure).

While the idea of people of one party trying to smear a person in another is repugnant, if the information disclosed is not of a personal nature, but rather involves official activities and spending taxpayers' money, why shouldn't it be made public? There is no indication in the story that any of the information was falsified. It is clear that had these officials not misbehaved, the public would have no clue how Mr. Bruno was spending their money.

The suggestion that this information should not have been disclosed (and is exempt from FOIL) because it puts Sen. Bruno in jeopardy seems like an excuse to keep things quiet. His travel schedule is being disclosed long after the fact, and long after any potential for harm. I would love to know how a travel itinerary from months ago "
if disclosed could endanger the life or safety of any person" [see POL§87(2)(f)]

This passage was particularly interesting:

"The report found Bruno's use of the state aircraft was appropriate under a state policy that "is overly permissive and porous and allows for an abuse of taxpayer funds."

"We find that Senator Bruno used state aircraft for trips during which he conducted both legislative business as well as political or personal business," the report stated. "We further find that such mixed usage is permissible under existing New York state policy."
I thought Mr. Cuomo was probing the behavior of Spitzer officials, not determining whether Mr. Bruno's travels and spending were appropriate. The comment about Mr. Bruno's being in compliance with state policy is gratuitous.

My overall impression was that Mr. Cuomo's report, and the news story, were carefully crafted -- perhaps to ease the tension between the governor and majority leader.

Lessons Learned:

1) Government officials will bend the rules to keep information secret.

2) Government officials will excuse an abuse of taxpayer dollars as long as state policy is not violated.


3) Government officials will sacrifice other government officials who tell the public too much. And ...

4) The right of the people to know how their money is being spent will always take a back seat to politics.

2 comments:

Jeph said...

From: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2007/07/24/2007-07-24_ag_stings_gov_in_frame_game.html

The plot to smear Bruno began in May, when Dopp e-mailed Richard Baum, who as secretary to the governor is Spitzer's highest ranking cabinet member, saying he had come up with "a new and different way to proceed re media," the report said.

On June 3, Dopp e-mailed Baum about a news story detailing a federal probe into Bruno's involvement in horse racing. "Think a travel story would fit nicely in the mix."

The "pretext" for gathering the information was a request under the Freedom of Information Law by the Albany Times Union - but that request wasn't made until June 27. (end quote)

The records began in May, the email was sent June 3, and the FOIL request is dated June 27.

Questioning the use of state resources is appropriate. As concerns this story though,Strikeslip, Dopp's job of creating press for the Governor is one thing. His job of inventing media for the Governor is a totally different thing.

Strikeslip said...

Jeph - It seems as though questioning the use of state resources goes for Both Sides: For Bruno in his travels, and for Spitzer's appointees in how they spend their time (which we ALSO pay for).