Accountability

Published — October 31, 2008 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Alaskan FOIA follies

Introduction

To be sure, an out-of-the-way state like Alaska may have been ill-prepared for the deluge of reporters filing Freedom of Information Act requests that followed John McCain’s surprise pick of its governor in August as his running mate.

Nevertheless, a “greatest hits” roundup of the state’s public-records hedging still amounts to a bit of theater of the absurd. First, there was the attempt by the governor’s office to charge a state public employee union (which represents Mike Wooten of “Troopergate” fame) $88,000 for records that may or may not have indicated Governor Sarah Palin illegally accessed personnel files. Then there were the e-mail records between state employees and McCain’s campaign headquarters that the AP requested— which the state announced it could release only to the tune of $15 million.

Want to see e-mails between state employees and the National Park Service — as the AP also attempted? That’ll run your tab another $15 million. And even then, some of those records won’t be available until mid-November, the governor’s office has announced.

While Alaska’s sunshine laws normally require agencies to supply records within 10 days of a request, with the state besieged by FOIA requests from across the country, delays are cropping up regularly. In a FOIA denial letter a tipster sent PaperTrail, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, for example, writes that it can’t respond to a mid-September FOIA request for communications between the governor and top department officials until November 3 — just one day before the presidential election.

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