The Legislature’s Shameful Failure to Disclose

Speaker of the Assembly John Perez2_108669889
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You can't help people who won't help themselves.

And you really can't help the California legislature.

It's been a constant refrain of this blog that Californians have tied the hands of their legislature to the greater public detriment.

Lawmakers need more power, discretion and room to make deals and govern. That requires a little bit of secrecy, and some allowances for dealmaking that is less than clean.

But that's no excuse for failing to disclose basic, dollars-and-cents information about how the legislature spends its money.

Unfortunately, the legislature routinely turns down public requests for just this kind of information.

Lawmakers also have exempted themselves from disclosure laws that apply to the executive branch and other areas of government.

The latest round of non-disclosure came as a result of Assemblyman Anthony Portantino's feud with Democratic legislative leaders.

They are angry at Portantino (D-Pasadena) for voting against the budget championed by his own party.

Portantino accuses leading lawmakers of cutting his office budget and falsely accusing him of budget overruns. He's been asking for information on how lawmakers spend their money.

Portantino is making a strategic political mistake by stoking this fight (as I previously argued here). But he's entitled to the information.

A local newspaper in his district also asked for the information -- and has had its requests denied and ignored. The legal pretext behind the denial -- that lawmakers' correspondence should be exempt -- is weak.

This kind of denial is dumb. The legislature badly needs to rebuild public trust if lawmakers are ever going to regain the power they need to govern the state more effectively.

But you can't win trust if you won't tell the public how you spend your money. Assembly Speaker John Perez should reconsider and release all legislative spending records.

To maintain this foolish secrecy is penny-wise, but pound-foolish.

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