Is the state freedom of information law free?
No, the Oregon Attorney General's office charges $25 a pop for the public's document and has refused to put a free download online.
UO Economics Professor Bill Harbaughâ€”a longtime critic of UO athletic and administrative spending and affirmative actionâ€”didn't like that. So he scanned the whole AG manual on the law and put it on his blog.
Harbaugh says the AG office claimed it, not the public, owned the public document on how to get public documents.
So will the AG go after Harbaugh for alleged copyright infringement? The professor doubts it. And the records may be virtually out of the AG's barn. Harbaugh says hundreds have downloaded the document and several sites have now also posted it (here's one mirror.)
Harbaugh's action has called big attention to the failure of Oregon's public records law to actually deliver public records. The public record liberation drew hundreds of outraged comments on the widely read slashdot.org. The Oregonian also blogged the freedom of infromation action.
Journalists and other reformers have been trying to push new Oregon Attorney General John Kroger to follow up on campaign promises and address long delays, exorbitant charges and legal maneuvering that bureaucrats have for decades used to keep the public in the dark. So far Kroger hasn't acted.
Locally, the city of Eugene has a long history of blocking freedom of information with outrageous fees. In a digital age when video, audio, images and text are searchable in a blink and whisk over the internet in seconds, the city still charges $10 for a two page police report and $10 for a one minute recording of a 911 call. The city even wants the public to pay inflated wages for city employee or private attorney time spent trying to hide public records or make them harder to get. Of course, the city will ream citizens with all the PR spin they can bear for free.
The city of Eugene charges appear to violate state law requiring governments only charge their actual cost of providing records, but the attorney general doesn't enforce the law.
At the county level, the Lane Council of Governments shadow government used taxpayer money to create an extensive mapable database (RLID) of home values, sales, taxes, liens, deeds, demographic, zoning and other data. But if taxpayers want access to the public records, they have to pay $200 plus $1,080 a year for a subscription to the public information they ostensibly already own.
As founding father James Madison wrote:
"A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both."
As Harbaugh pointed out, Oregon's freedom of information law is a farce.
From fighting Internet sex predators to creating a web-based environmental crimes reporting system Oregon AG John Kroger has been cracking down on crime since taking office in January. Fresh from taking on East Coast mafia killers and drug kingpins, Krogerâ€™s most recent victory protects Oregonians from "the possible dangers of electronic cigarettes."
If you havenâ€™t encountered an electronic cigarette itâ€™s because you havenâ€™t pulled over on I-5 to fuel up at a Pilot Travel Center or a truck stop run by TA Operating. According to NJOY Cigarettes, the makers of both plastic electronic cigarettes and cigars (the latter with a â€œwoodgrain finish and larger cigar-like shape,â€) the device works through a â€œsmall rechargeable battery and a unique replaceable cartridge and membrane containing water, propylene glycol, nicotine, and a scent that emulates tobacco and other flavorings.â€ Rather than smoke, the user inhales a vapor created when the battery heats the liquid mixture.
The company also says on its website that the device â€œgives smokers all the pleasure and satisfaction of traditional smoking without all the health, social and economic problems.â€
Krogerâ€™s office appears to disagree. A press release from the AG said, â€œFDA tests showed a wide variation in the amount of nicotine delivered by three different samples of nicotine cartridges with the same label. Tests also revealed the presence of nitrosamines â€” a known carcinogen.â€
The electronic cigarette turmoil is settled for now. The AGâ€™s office reached a settlement with Pilot Travel Centers and TA Operating that the cigarettes will not be sold in Oregon until they are approved by the â€œor until a court rules the FDA does not have the authority to regulate electronic cigarettes.â€ If the FDA does not have the authority, then the devices will not be sold until there is evidence to back the companyâ€™s safety claims.
â€œWhen products threaten the health and safety of Oregonians, we will take action,â€ said deputy AG Mary Williams â€œIf companies want to sell electronic cigarettes to consumers, they have to be able to prove they are safe.â€ â€” Camilla Mortensen
Willamette Week's Nigel Jaquiss has a cover story on the state attorney general race between former federal prosecutor John Kroger and state legislator Greg Macpherson.
Here's some highlights:
â€¢ "'I prosecuted Enron, and Gregâ€™s firm represented them,' says Kroger."
â€¢ Eugene city attorney and Philip Morris tobacco lawyer Bill Gary boosts Macpherson for his work in cutting the cost of PERS: 'â€œHeâ€™s shown exactly the kind of political courage that it takes to be AG,' Gary says."
â€¢ "Macpherson differs with Kroger on Measure 11, the law that provides mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes. Simply put, Macpherson says heâ€™s more willing to consider reducing sentences. 'Weâ€™ve gone on a prison-building boom and underinvested in other services,' he says."
â€¢ Consumer advocate Dan Meek criticises Macpherson for voting against a bill to close a loophole that allowed Enron to overcharge customers $1 billion: "'Macpherson was one of only two Dâ€™s in the legislature who voted against 408,' says utility lawyer Dan Meek."
Both Kroger and Macpherson are Democrats and there is no Republican challenger, so voters will decide the race in May.
Here's an earlier EW cover story on the race: