Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal carried a column by John Fund that was even more gung ho than the Palin administration has been in fixing blame. It’s headline? “Why Palin Quit: Death by a Thousand FOIAs.”
This situation developed because Alaska’s transparency laws allow anyone to file Freedom of Information Act requests. While normally useful, in the hands of political opponents FOIA requests can become a means to bog down a target in a bureaucratic quagmire, thanks to the need to comb through records and respond by a strict timetable. Similarly, ethics investigations are easily triggered and can drag on for months even if the initial complaint is flimsy. Since Ms. Palin returned to Alaska after the 2008 campaign, some 150 FOIA requests have been filed and her office has been targeted for investigation by everyone from the FBI to the Alaska legislature.
That opening sentence is odd, and not only because Fund (and his copy editor) make the rookie mistake of conflating Alaska’s Records Act with the immaterial federal FOIA. It seems like Fund thinks Alaska’s records law is unusually prone to abuse. It’s not. While a handful of states technically require that the requester be a state resident, the vast majority do not. None restricts access to certain classes of residents, because having the records accessible to everyone is kind of the whole point.
Yes, it’s true that since Palin entered the spotlight Alaska has been deluged with records requests—a spokeswoman talking to the Daily News put the number at 189, close to twice what the previous governor encountered in his full four-year term. And while that may be a pain for the line officers and clerical staff who have to fulfill the requests, it’s simply the cost of doing business; Alaska law thankfully requires that most records be made public upon request, presumably because, like every jurisdiction with a records-access law, Alaska’s officials believe that the public is served by having access to information about the decisions and operations of its government.
For Sarah Palin to complain that the state has spent a million or two toward this goal (that’s well short of two one-hundredths of a percent of the state budget) is odd for a politician who campaigned on reform, transparency, and ethics, and who, in her 2006 inauguration speech, implored her constituents with this charge:
“Alaskans, hold me accountable!”