While Governor Brown has
repeatedly called for a transparent budget process, his office recently denied
a public records’ request submitted on behalf of California Common Sense (CACS)
seeking the state’s checkbook. It raises the question: why would the Governor’s
Office block a request for transparency?

are the facts. In early April, CACS began seeking the state’s checkbook to
build a transparency portal and make government financial data more open. To
ensure the request was deliverable, we spoke with the Department of Finance. We
were dismayed to learn that despite the fact that the Controller, Treasurer,
Department of Finance, and multiple committees in the legislature all manage
different aspects of the state’s finances, there
is no central checkbook for our state
. The Department of Finance informed
us that we would have to submit separate public records request to each
individual state entity to get detailed data.

April 17, CACS submitted a public records request to every entity listed in the
state budget in order to obtain each entity’s checkbook. On April 26 Erin Peth,
Deputy of Legal Affairs for the Governor’s Office, contacted us on behalf of
all entities controlled by the Governor’s offices. She authorized all entities
in the executive branch an extra 14 days to allow them to evaluate whether they
had responsive documents.         

on May 11, Ms. Peth denied our request, stating, "We are denying your request as currently framed because it is so
onerous that the public interest served by not disclosing the records clearly
outweighs the public interest served by the disclosure of the records. The
‘public interest’ includes ‘public concern with the cost and efficiency of
government.’ The expense and inconvenience of engaging in such a limitless search
and review of documents is not in the public interest. For this reason, the
public interest in withholding these records outweighs the public interest in
the disclosure of them."
And, despite several follow up requests from CACS
to the Governor’s office, we have heard nothing.

irony of denying public disclosure in the name of the public interest speaks
for itself.  Since when is it a matter of
"public interest" to restrict vital information about the way our government
spends taxpayer money? How is efficiency served by preventing CACS from the
exposure of critical public data? How is it that CACS’s request requires a "limitless
search" for documents when we clearly asked for a finite number of records in
the form of a checkbook?

his campaign, Governor Brown promised accountable and transparent governance.
The denial of public information requests for the state’s checkbook runs
counter to a culture of government transparency. We hope that this response is
simply a misunderstanding and a consequence of bureaucratic error, not a
decision of Governor Brown himself.

a small subset of yearly summaries has been released-nearly two months after
the initial request- this is by no means a state checkbook that allows citizens
to see how their dollars are being used. The citizens of California should
demand to see the state’s checkbook immediately.  Twenty other states have already released
this data. California should follow suit. Without a public central checkbook,
government transparency is a meaningless catchphrase. We are ensuring that the
promise of that phrase is fulfilled.

We are
hopeful that Governor Brown is still committed to transparency and
accountability.  We ask him to work with
us-to reconsider his office’s evaluation of the public interest and to open
California’s checkbook by releasing the requested public data.