Three times is a pattern. In the past few weeks, Republicans and Donald Trump have made it clear three times that they will keep their ownership interest in information concerning government activities secret against the American people and against basic understandings of transparency and democracy. This time the need to hide data from the people has taken a casualty: the Kris Kobach headed so-called “Election Integrity Commission” is going out of business.
PATTERN OF GOVERNMENT SECRECY
First, Republicans obtained a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court with illegitimately-installed Neil Gorsuch casting the deciding vote to allow Donald Trump to hide critical government documents and only provide documents to courts that they like.
Second, the very next day after the Supreme Court protected Donald Trump’s secrets, his FCC refused to turn over all of the documents regarding the fraudulent net neutrality comments posted to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate the fraud. Perhaps someone associated with Donald Trump of the Republican Party does not want to face criminal charges.
THE ELECTION COMMISSION
Now third, in a strange sort of victory for the people, the Donald Trump administration is shutting down the Election Integrity Commission to hide information from pending court cases. A short announcement at the site blames states for refusing to turn over voter registration data. Here is the full statement:
Statement by the Press Secretary on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity
Despite substantial evidence of voter fraud, many states have refused to provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry. Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order to dissolve the Commission, and he has asked the Department of Homeland Security to review its initial findings and determine next courses of action.
While the exact details of refusals are disputed, everyone agrees that some states refused to turn over the data to Kris Kobach and the commission. Lawsuits, letters and complaints include claims like these, aggregated in detail at the Brennan Center:
- The request violates the Paperwork Reduction Act by failing to protect states and people from burdensome requests without adequate safeguards for privacy, failing to publish notice in the Federal Register and failing to obtain OMB permission.
- The request violates the Fifth Amendment by failing to protect people from federal invasions of privacy and failing to require notice to individuals in any case.
- The request violates the federal rule requiring a Privacy Impact Statement to protect citizens.
- The commission is “not making records available for public inspection.”
- The request violates the federal Privacy Act because it fails in “describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
- Many lawsuits claim that providing this wholesale information to the commission violates state privacy laws and risks harm to voters. These complaints include states run by Republicans like Texas, Florida, and Utah.
- The request provides no time nor opportunity to contest disclosures.
- The commission violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act, “by holding meetings without providing public notice or opening the meetings to the public,” for example, holding “its June 28 meeting without public notice.”
- The commission includes members who have “consistently worked to disenfranchise voters.”
- Donald Trump’s order creating the commission does not even give it the authority to collect voter database records.
- Donald Trump does not have authority to create the commission under various laws and the Constitution because it is not “fairly balanced,” more than “advisory,” and “designed to target and discriminate against African-American and Latino voters.”
- Democratic members actually on the commission are not provided with commission documents and information.
- Commission head Kris Kobach may be violating the Hatch Act for using his position as a political tool.
- Commissioner Christy McCormick cannot serve on both this commission and the Election Assistance Commission, as holding these duel positions violates the Help America Vote Act.
The Brennan Center itself filed a lawsuit to compel disclosure of information:
Brennan Center and Protect Democracy filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York to compel the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and Office of Management and Budget to disclose information to which the public is entitled pertaining to the president’s “Election Integrity” Commission. The organizations filed suit after their requests to the agencies under the Freedom of Information Act went unanswered.
The Commission has released very few details about its operations, methods, or intentions. Plaintiffs had requested all communications and documents relating to the Commission and its members, or any similar effort to establish a body to study voter fraud. The Brennan Center and Protect Democracy now ask the court to order the government to search for and produce the records to which they are entitled. More information can be found on the Brennan Center’s website.
On one hand, the commission wants to make the databases public so that their friends at the partisan Cambridge Analytica and perhaps foreign agents from Russia could use such information to micro-target voters. On the other hand, the commission hides from so many laws and fails to provide so many required notices and so much information to the public as to create legal quagmire so large that even the new 5-4 partisan Supreme Court cannot override it all.
The right of the people to vote is a tiny bit more safe now. Much more work is needed. However, the right of people to know what the government is doing is very unsafe now.
NINJA UPDATE: the news is not so good as investigative reporter Greg Palast points out:
Don’t be fooled by news of Trump’s Executive Order dissolving the so-called Commission on Election Integrity. Trump is not ending the #KrisKobach scheme to attack, he’s moving it into Homeland Security as per Kobach’s original plan.
#Kobach gloats that Homeland Security is exempt from Freedom of Information Act demands and public hearings — that was part his original plan given to Trump.
Featured picture: Chairman Kris Kobach of the Election Integrity Commission.