Massachusetts Receives an ‘F’ for Public Records Access

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Photo via AP

Secretary Bill Galvin. Photo via AP

The Washington D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity handed out grades for, well, public integrity Monday, with the Bay State ranked among the worst states in the U.S. for public records access. This should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Massachusetts received an overall grade of D+, with F’s for public access to information; judicial accountability; and lobbying disclosure. “Requesters in Massachusetts regularly face multiple month or year delays in obtaining information through public records requests,” authors Maggie Mulvihill and Beverly Ford wrote, noting the myriad delays that MuckRock reporters Shawn Musgrave and George LeVine have encountered while requesting public records, especially when dealing with police departments.

“Police departments also often attempt to charge unreasonable fees. I have had to go to the Supervisor of Records for cases where a police department attempted to charge me to convert data from an electronic format to print, without providing any explanation for the needless charge or delay,” Musgrave told the CPI.

In June, Investigative Reporters and Editors awarded Massachusetts State Police its “Golden Padlock Award,” earning it the dubious distinction of the most secretive public agency in America. “The Massachusetts State Police habitually go to extraordinary lengths to thwart public records requests, protect law enforcement officers and public officials who violate the law and block efforts to scrutinize how the department performs its duties,” the IRE wrote.

Mulvihill and Ford also cast blame on Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin and Attorney General Maura Healey for their failure to enforce penalties for violations of public records law.

“The Secretary of State, which oversees the public records law, and the Attorney General, which holds enforcement power, do not initiative investigations into violations,” they wrote. “When there have been violations of the public records law, sanctions are non-existent. The Supervisor of Public Records has not referred a case to the Attorney General for enforcement in four years, a Boston Globe investigation found.”

On the ever-increasingly slim bright side, Massachusetts was ranked first in the nation for political financing, both for its limits on campaign donations and public access to finance information on the Office of Campaign and Political Finance’s online database.

Alaska took home the No. 1 spot with a passing C grade, with both superlative lobbying disclosure and “room for improvement.” You can read more about the CPI’s methodology for the ranking here.

Source URL: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2015/11/09/massachusetts-public-records-grade/