Letter to the Editor

GOP weaponizes the Sunshine Law

Sunday, July 20, 2008

To the editor:

In the past year the Missouri Republican Party and Gov. Matt Blunt have weaponized the state's Sunshine Law. What is intended as tool for citizens to monitor their government has in GOP hands become a means of political harassment.

After a former lawyer on the governor's staff went public with allegations that the Blunt administration had violated open records and record retention laws, the Republican Party in November 2007 requested three years' worth of records and e-mails from nearly 20 Democratic lawmakers in an attempt to divert attention away from the governor's troubles. After we agreed to comply, the GOP dropped its request.

In May, Blunt's chief of staff, Trish Vincent, demanded several years' worth of records from state Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, after he had the audacity to criticize the governor. Vincent subsequently narrowed her request to records from a single day, which Harris immediately provided.

In the latest episode, the Republican Party on July 16 asked state Rep. Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, for all e-mails his office has produced since January 2003. The retaliation came one day after Page called on Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who was serving as acting governor, to use his authority to release records that Blunt continues to keep secret relating to the 2007 allegations.

By abusing the Sunshine Law, the Republican Party does tremendous damage to it. It will be much more difficult to strengthen the law, as Democrats have proposed, if government officials fear a tougher law will result in more political attacks.

Sadly, by raising this issue I fully expect Republicans will slap me with yet another retaliatory records request.

State Rep. PAUL LeVOTA, Minority Leader, Missouri House of Representatives, Jefferson City, Mo.