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David Cuillier Comments on Public Records Transparency Laws and Secrecy Creep

David Cuillier, director of the Brechner Freedom of Information Project, is quoted in “South Dakota Lags in Public-Records Transparency Laws, Expert Says” published on South Dakota’s on March 17.

According to Cuillier, South Dakota’s state laws providing public access to state and local government records are among the weakest in the U.S.

Cuillier said exemptions represent “death by a thousand cuts.” He said South Dakota’s public-records laws ranked 22nd and 31st in two national studies but ranked 44th to 50th in six others.

“Literally the worst in the country in three studies.” he said.

Cuillier said journalists should humanize citizens’ frustrations when public-records laws don’t allow access and should publicly report whenever they are refused government records.

“I think journalists have a duty to tell the public when they’re denied public information. It’s not about the journalists. It’s about the public,” he said.

Cuillier was also quoted in Shawn Vestal’s column “A Half-Century After the People Demanded Transparency, ‘Secrecy Creep’ Flourishes” published in The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, on March 17.

Cuillier commented on Washington State’s 1972 Initiative 276 which was intended to open the books on campaign finance and make every government record open to the public.

According to Cuillier, during the campaign, people would sometimes be taken aback at how thoroughly the measure intended to open the government’s business — thinking surely the sponsors had plenty of exceptions in mind.

Cuillier helped produce a Washington Coalition for Open Government report that outlines many ways that access to public records has been eroded.

“They [Sunshine Laws] get passed, everyone’s all ecstatic, and then they get whittled down year by year by year until they’re worthless,” he said. “Before you know it, these laws have become tools of secrecy, not transparency.”

Cuillier described the year-by-year drip of new exemptions as just one of the effects of “secrecy creep” — the tendency for governments to slowly tighten the spigot on openness, almost imperceptibly.

“This creep affects not just Washington, but the entire country,” said Cuillier. “A decade ago, about half of all federal public-records requests, under the Freedom of Information Act, would get a response. Washington could follow the lead of other states and establish an agency dedicated to protecting public access to records, assisting citizens in using the law and getting information, and training public officials.”

Posted: March 20, 2024
Category: Brechner News
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