Auditor Nicole Galloway is trying, unsuccessfully so far, to get the state Attorney General’s Office to weigh in on whether a government entity should be able to hide certain information from the public.
Specifically, can public agencies redact information related to individuals conducting business with, lobbying or attempting to influence that government entity?
In early May, Galloway’s office requested a legal opinion on the issue from state Attorney General Eric Schmitt. On Wednesday, she publicly scolded Schmitt’s office for not getting back with her on the issue within 90 days, which it had pledged to do.
Galloway believes governmental agencies should not be allowed to hide the information in question.
“The Attorney General is charged with enforcing the Sunshine Law,” she said in a statement. “I would expect that he would give an opinion as to whether it is appropriate to redact the information of those attempting to conduct business with or lobby a government entity. Missourians deserve to know who is influencing their government.”
Why, you ask, is the auditor asking the question? Because in Gov. Mike Parson’s office, attorneys have cited First Amendment freedom of speech as a reason to hide the identities of private residents with which the office has been in contact.
His office has said disclosure of such information may have a chilling effect on individuals contacting their government, and that the office has redacted such information in the past without citing the First Amendment, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reported.
Meanwhile, keep in mind the politics of the situation. Galloway is the only Democrat who holds a statewide office and is the expected Democrat challenger to Parson when he seeks a full term to the office next year. This could be an issue on the campaign — and a way to force Schmitt to go on record on the issue.
Galloway, Parson, Schmitt and others might care about the politics of the situation. We don’t.
What’s right is right, and regardless of a pending opinion from the AG’s office, we’re glad to weigh in with ours: Government records are created with our money and our blessing. They should be open.
Yes, there are exceptions, and they’re outlined in the state’s Sunshine Law. But generally, anyone in contact with a governmental agency shouldn’t be able to hide their business with that agency.