Dill leads legislative rejection of secrecy (Apr. 12, 2012)


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Cynthia Dill, 749-7749                                 April 12, 2012

Dill leads legislative rejection of secrecy

LePage administration wanted to shield policy workings from public

AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to kill a LePage administration proposal that would have exempted working papers created by the governor or his staff from Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.

According to the Bangor Daily News, Sen. Cynthia Dill, a leading progressive running to succeed Olympia Snowe in the U.S. Senate, led the drive to reject the measure despite heavy lobbying from the governor’s staff. All 34 senators voted Wednesday to postpone the move.

The proposal — drafted by Gov. Paul LePage’s office in response to a raft of FOAA requests last year — was approved by an advisory committee last fall, then approved by a majority of the Judiciary Committee earlier this year. The measure had bipartisan support as recently as last week at the committee level in the House.

But Dill, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, helped lead the fight for government openness by preparing an amendment that would have disallowed the FOAA exemption to governors while also stripping a similar exemption from legislators.

“It’s odd because, as a candidate, LePage promised more transparency in government,” Dill said, noting the LePage campaign website had declared “every Maine citizen has a right to know what government is up to … When Paul is Governor, open government will be a reality, not a talking point … Any roadblocks Mainers face in the pursuit of public information from a governmental entity must be torn down.”

“Frankly, Mainers are dumbfounded by this administration’s opposition to democracy,” Dill said. “Voters had to petition to overturn legislation to limit access to the ballot box last year. Now we have a measure that would have shielded the state’s top public official from public scrutiny of his work. They must think we live in a monarchy.”

Quoting former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, Dill said “in democracy, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Without legislators protecting the public interest, government secrecy would allow our public discourse to be hijacked by special interests in backroom deals.”

A recent nonpartisan report ranked Maine 46th out of 50 states in transparency, saying the lack of openness “may explain why budgets are not flush, why roads aren’t repaired, why there are tax loopholes.”

“We can’t go backwards on open government and we need to remember to keep the ‘public’ in public policy,” Dill said. “It’s more important than ever that we have public advocates in government who aren’t afraid to say where they stand on the issues, and who stand up for the public’s right to know. There should be no secrets or guessing games when it comes to our public officials.”

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