* Adam Andrzejewski’s “Open the Books” organization sent out an e-mail this morning entitled “We Sued. Taxpayers Won”…
This is a watershed moment in our fight for transparent government. In a Cook County court room, during ten months of legal wrangling, we’ve shown:
1. Citizens own the State of Illinois checkbook spending information;
2. The Comptroller has a constitutional duty to provide this data on request;
3. The Comptroller has a duty under Freedom of Information Act to fulfill requests;
4. Citizens can request the state checkbook from the Comptroller, from 1996 forward.
For the first time in state history, all public State of Illinois checkbook payments since 1996 will soon be online at OpenTheBooks.com. Turns out, “three days of work” wasn’t an “undue burden.”
Our suit forced the IL Comptroller to finally comply with the law. It shouldn’t have taken 18 months and a lawsuit. At OpenTheBooks.com, 40 of the 50 state checkbooks are already posted online.
“We aren’t asking the Comptroller to lead the charge on openness and accountability - only to follow the law.” January 8, 2013 Press Conference
Illinois Freedom of Information law has an enforcement provision that allows for return of reasonable legal fees. Through our attorney, Michael Lotus of Howard Law Firm, our demand for return of our $45,000 (so far) in legal costs is not negotiable. Non-payment would have a chilling effect on future citizen lawsuits of equal importance to rectify instances of trampled rights.
In these hyper-partisan times, Comptroller Judy Baar-Topinka (R) and Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) found common ground attempting to hide the state checkbook from taxpayers- a position that pitted them against us all.
The taxpayer’s won. Pay up, Judy- and let’s move on. [Emphasis in original]
But, wait. Didn’t Andrzejewski’s group get this info months ago?
* So, I followed up with Andrzejewski. His reply…
We took our time in broadcasting the latest to give the Comptroller opportunity to settle this case. Topinka didn’t seize the opportunity to wrap it up. We are still assessing whether she’s turned over all public information and didn’t withhold or redact too much.
We are serious about driving a judgment and fully enforcing FOIA with return of our legal fees.
Ah, legal fees.
* The comptroller’s spokesman responded…
That “news release” is from left field.
He has the same information that he’s had all along and we haven’t lost a single motion in Court.
I’m not sure how that’s a victory for him, but if it means he is dropping his frivolous lawsuit, so be it.
It sounds like now all that’s left is his absurd attempt to soak taxpayers for his legal fees.
*** UPDATE *** Andrzejewski’s full response to Comptroller Topinka…
We were disappointed to see the response by the Comptroller to our announcement today. Here are some details to set the record straight.
Eighteen months ago we requested the State’s checkbook for 2011 under the Freedom of Information Act. How the taxpayers’ money is spent is a matter of the highest possible public interest. The Comptroller has a duty to the public to make that information available.
The Comptroller responded that it would take “three days” of work to produce these records, and that this was “an undue burden.” After repeated further requests, we were finally forced to bring a lawsuit to get the State’s checkbook. Here’s our complaint: http://forthegoodofillinois.org/wp-content/uploads/20130104-Complaint-by-For-The-Good-Of-Illinois.pdf
The Comptroller, represented by the Attorney General’s office, filed a motion to dismiss our complaint. They argued, among other things, that the State’s outdated computer systems couldn’t remove confidential information from the public spending record. Our response to the Comptroller’s motion is here: http://forthegoodofillinois.org/wp-content/uploads/20130408-Plaintiffs-Motion-For-Relief-Pursuant-To-IL-Rule-191b-1.pdf
We also filed a motion to take discovery, to get information to respond to the Comptroller’s motion to dismiss. The Court granted that motion, and we served written requests for information on the Comptroller. To be clear, we won that motion and the Comptroller lost it.
When the Comptroller saw our detailed, written requests for information, their office finally agreed to provide the information it should have given us from the beginning. The information we forced the Comptroller to disclose was not previously available to the public. For example, we now have itemized payments, which the Comptroller had not produced before.
The Comptroller also stated that it had now written computer code that will allow it to remove confidential information and produce its other spending records. The Comptroller can no longer refuse to produce its entire checkbook by claiming that there are confidential records in it. Our effort in this case has conferred a benefit on everyone who wants to know where the public’s money is going in Illinois.
The Freedom of Information Act provides for attorney’s fees. There is a good reason for this. Citizens of Illinois should not have to fight a legal battle, and spend their own money, to get public records showing how their tax money is spent. Otherwise, the State could withhold public information with little chance that ordinary citizens could ever force that information to be disclosed. This is an important case which we brought on behalf of all Illinois citizens. Seeking our fees is exactly what the Freedom of Information Act provides for.
We are proud of the success we have already had in this case, on behalf of the citizens of Illinois, and we look forward to bringing this case to a conclusion.