JANUARY 30, 2007
They are supposed to enforce laws and ensure justice for all citizens but the attorney general’s office in the nation’s largest state has repeatedly violated its own laws by concealing tens of millions of dollars worth of contracts, including a lucrative deal with a firm that donated money to the attorney general’s political campaign.
Under California’s recently replaced attorney general, the state’s Department of Justice broke the very laws it claims to enforce by hiding more than $100 million in contracts with lobbyists, consultants, legal firms and even couriers. Many of them were no-bid contracts and all were omitted from computerized state records in violation of the California Public Records Act, which says government documents must be available for public inspection unless there is a need to protect the privacy of state employees or attorney-client discussions.
That didn’t apply to more than 1,700 contracts discovered to be illegally labeled confidential by a major news agency’s investigation. The review included all contracts issued between 2003 and 2006 under former Democratic Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who is currently the state’s treasurer.
The secret dealings included a $2 million deal with a law firm that donated cash to Lockyer’s political committees and two no-bid contracts worth nearly half a million dollars with a Washington lobbyist firm headed by Lockyer’s good friend. Another featured more than $1 million in no-bid contracts for parking spaces and a $132,000 payment to a research group.
As in the case of many public records requests that expose damaging information, California’s Department of Justice initially refused to provide the files and still won’t reveal hundreds of hidden deals worth more than $44 million. Lockyer says the classification was simply a mistake because “there was nothing to hide.” Other department administrators say there was no attempt to deliberately hide spending or protect favored contractors from public scrutiny.
But officials with one of California’s leading free speech and open government organizations don’t buy the honest mistake explanation calling it either “incredible bureaucratic bungling” or the intentional use of a policy to protect from disclosure and scrutiny documents it was never intended to cover.
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