Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Corbett’s office again turns down healthcare reform lawsuit Right to Know Request, but tacitly admits political contacts

Corbett’s office again turns down healthcare reform lawsuit Right to Know Request, but tacitly admits political contacts

OAG’s reasoning is bizarre, saying this information could create

a “risk of physical harm” to Corbett.

(HARRISBURG)—Tom Corbett’s Office of Attorney General has once again turned down a Right to Know request by Keystone Progress (KP). KP filed its request seeking information on correspondence concerning Corbett’s politically motivated suit to overturn the federal healthcare reform legislation. This is the second request for this information by Keystone Progress.

The following is the organization’s response.

Keystone Progress is troubled by the lack of transparency by Attorney General Corbett concerning the obvious political nature of his lawsuit to overturn federal healthcare reform, known as the Affordable Health Care for America Act.

The filing of the suit reveals once again that Mr. Corbett has a serious lack of concern about the needs of Pennsylvania’s working families by trying to deny them access to affordable healthcare. The response to our request for information reveals an even deeper lack of respect for the people and their need for an open, honest and impartial Attorney General.

Specifically, we are concerned about the following items in Corbett’s response to our request for information:

  • The Office of Attorney General tacitly admits that there have been political contacts between the OAG and overtly political entities concerning Corbett’s lawsuit to overturn healthcare reform. OAG did not say they did not have political correspondence. Instead, they used four legal citations to assert that it was not public information. This clearly indicates that there has been political correspondence since we only asked for emails between OAG and overtly political entities (see list below). We believe that political correspondence is not protected. Furthermore, we believe that political correspondence by the OAG is illegal and should be investigated by someone outside of the OAG.
  • OAG has even refused to turn over already publicly available records provided to Keystone Progress by the Wisconsin Attorney General. Keystone Progress recently released emails that revealed Corbett’s office has been working with a Republican campaign organization to plan to overturn the recently enacted federal healthcare reform law. KP uncovered the relationship in a series of emails released by the State of Wisconsin Department of Justice under a similar request by One Wisconsin Now. These emails were not released by OAG. Since they are already available to the public, there is no need to keep them hidden. Refusing to release these documents also reveals disdain for the people of Pennsylvania.
  • The first reason cited for declining KP’s request for information for their political correspondence is that it would create “a substantial and demonstrable risk of physical harm to or the personal security of [the Attorney General].65 P.S. §67.708(b)(1)(ii).” This reasoning is bizarre, and suggests once again that Mr. Corbett holds the people of Pennsylvania in contempt. How does releasing email correspondence about political decisions put Mr. Corbett at risk of physical harm? Is Corbett suggesting that his interactions, while on the job, with political entities such as Karl Rove and Michael Steele are so frequent that it will incite people to violence? It is hard to fathom what prompted the OAG to use this absurd reason to deny us access to this information.
  • OAG also missed the required RTKL deadline by a week, citing the size of KP’s request. OAG is required to reply to a request within five working days. They met this deadline by saying they needed an additional 30 days to review the legality of the request. This extension was unnecessary since they had already reviewed KP’s almost identical first request a few days earlier. It is now 116 days since we first asked for this information. On July 2, OAG told KP that they could not meet the deadline because the request for information was so large. This is a clear violation of the Right to Know Law.

Keystone Progress is therefore demanding the following:

1) The Office of Attorney General must release all materials as requested.

2) The United State Department of Justice should initiate an investigation into the use of the Office of the Attorney General for partisan political purposes.

3) Attorney General Tom Corbett must resign immediately to protect the integrity of the Office of Attorney General.

Keystone Progress is seeking all correspondence concerning that suit between the OAG and numerous political operatives and organizations. This was KP’s second request for this information. The first was turned down by Corbett’s office. The second request was the same as the first except that it named specific individuals and entities.

Fourteen state attorneys general have filed suit to overturn the Affordable Healthcare for America Act, the federal healthcare reform law. Corbett has repeatedly denied that his efforts are political, despite the fact that he agreed to join the suit even before he had read the healthcare reform law. The lawsuit was filed just seven minutes after President Obama signed the bill into law.

The staff of the attorneys general have been working with the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC). RSLC describes itself as “the only national organization whose mission is electing Republicans to the office of Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State and State Legislator.”1 RSLC is organized as a 527 organization which has contributed over $58 million to elect Republicans at the state level. RSLC was Corbett’s largest contributor during his race for reelection as attorney general, giving him $691,000, according to the PA Department of State.2

The request seeks all correspondence between OAG and the following:

  • Republican State Leadership Committee
  • Republican Attorneys General Association
  • Republican Party of Pennsylvania
  • Republican National Committee
  • American Justice Partnership
  • Caleb Consulting
  • Tom Corbett for Governor
  • Tim Barnes, Chairman, Republican State Leadership Committee
  • Scott Ward, President, Republican State Leadership Committee
  • Ben Cannatti, Political Director, Republican State Leadership Committee
  • Erin Berry, Associate General Counsel, Republican State Leadership Committee
  • Casey Phillips, Regional Political Director, Republican State Leadership Committee
  • Michael Luethy, Regional Political Director, Republican State Leadership Committee
  • Adam Temple, Press Secretary, Republican State Leadership Committee
  • Robert Sechrist, Director of New Media, Republican State Leadership Committee
  • Michael Steele, Chairman, Republican National Committee
  • Karl Rove
  • Chirag Shah, Campaign Manager for JB Van Hollen WI Attorney General
  • Rob Gleason, Chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania
  • Joyce Haas, Vice-Chair of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania
  • Christine J. Toretti, Republican National Committeewoman
  • Robert Asher, Republican National Committeeman

1 Republican State Leadership Committee website http://www.rslc.com/about-rslc/
2Pennsylvania Department of State http://www.campaignfinance.state.pa.us/ContributionSearchResults.aspx?RequestID=346769&StartRow=1&RowsPerPage=10&SortOrder=0

Keystone Progress is Pennsylvania’s largest online progressive network with over 200,000 subscribers. Keystone Progress is also a statewide communications network specializing in effective earned media and online organizing to advance progressive leadership and values.