On Saturday, the Times Union reported that six reform groups, including the Brennan Center, filed a "friend of the court" brief supporting the paper in its suit (Hearst v. Silver and Bruno, Index No. 4001-06) against Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Brunswick, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan.
In short, the leaders have turned down the Times Union's Freedom of Information Law requests for full disclosure of documents showing how lawmakers carve up hundreds of millions of dollars of "member items" (an issue the Times Union has doggedly covered and we have blogged about here). The leaders released some documents related to the member items, but censored the names of the legislators who asked for each grant.
Last week, Majority Leader Bruno and Assembly Speaker Silver, both being represented by Attorney General Spitzer, filed their opposition to the Times Union's petition. It's an extraordinary document with an absurd argument. Put as simply as possible, the Leaders seem to be saying that the speech and debate clause of the state constitution bars any court from enforcing a FOI request of lawmakers. Therefore, the argument goes, the identity of a lawmaker who arranges member items is exempt from the Legislature's Freedom of Information Law.
The implications of this argument are far reaching. It suggests that no one could ever make the Legislature obey its own FOI Law to obtain access to anything -- no matter what the reason, and regardless of the surrounding circumstance.
So much for transparency in Albany.
Needless to say, we intend to work with the Times Union to make sure this argument doesn't prevail.
Update: The Leaders' Memo in Opposition to the Times Union petition can be found here.