The California Assembly’s litigation-triggered release of some information about its budgeting for members’ spending does not paint the whole picture, and the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times will persist in their lawsuit under the Legislative Open Records Act. Jim Sanders, reporting in the Bee, explains why.
The California Assembly has criticized as “unfounded and unnecessary” a public-records lawsuit filed by The Bee and Los Angeles Times seeking access to current fiscal records.
The lower house already has released all the data necessary to track spending by individual members, said the Assembly in a court filing by Thomas A. Willis of the Remcho, Johansen & Purcell law firm.
The data released were incomplete and insufficient, countered Rochelle L. Wilcox, attorney for The Bee and Times, which filed suit Aug. 5 in Sacramento Superior Court.
“We’re moving forward with the lawsuit,” Wilcox said. “Our lawsuit seeks specific information that they haven’t released.”
The fight stems from allegations by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, that his budget was slashed by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez as punishment for his casting the lone Democratic vote against this year’s budget.
The Bee and Times requested current Assembly fiscal records that could shed light on Portantino’s allegations of punishment.
The Assembly typically waits 12 months before disclosing member-by-member expenditure data for the current legislative year.
After the suit was filed, it made an exception, releasing spending data for 2010 and through July of 2011. But the data provided no insight into whether Portantino’s budget had been slashed by Pérez because it lacked several elements requested.
The Assembly limited its disclosure to public funds that already had been spent. It balked at releasing documents showing how much each member had been allocated, and it did not disclose whether any additions or subtractions had been made during the year.
The Assembly, in court documents, contends that The Bee and Times are seeking to “create a new rule” entitling them to preliminary draft budgets and internal correspondence that are confidential under the state’s Legislative Open Records Act.
“If every budget projection were required to be released, each iteration of it would cause confusion as to the meaning of the projection and would severely hamper the deliberative process of determining how best to spend the taxpayers’ money,” the Assembly filing said.
A December court hearing is planned.