FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
News from Progress Michigan
November 25, 2015
The Attorney General Doth Protest Too Much
Progress Michigan responds to Schuette’s attacks on organization, response to lobbyist probe
MICHIGAN — Progress Michigan released the following response to an email that Attorney General Bill Schuette’s spokeswoman sent to members of the Lansing Press Corps upon release of the organization’s FOIA request looking at Schuette’s relationships with national lobbyists known to target Attorneys General around the country on behalf of their corporate clients.
Progress Michigan thanks the Attorney General’s office for finally releasing the documents we requested back in September, even though they waited to “dump” them the day before a major holiday.
We feel that because of the attacks levied against our organization in the AG’s email we must point out some important things to remember:
1) This request sought information that mirrored that of a New York Times reporter which led to a Pulitzer Prize winning story about Attorney Generals, both Democrats and Republicans, across the country and their intimate relationship with corporate lobbyists. To call it a fishing expedition is political gamesmanship at its worst. This is about ensuring Bill Schuette is working on behalf of Michiganders and not his corporate donors.
2) Originally, the Attorney General’s office tried to charge us nearly $20,000 to search for these records. This is prior to our release of records showing that he encourages the “fee approach” to price organizations and the public out of obtaining FOIA records.
3) Simply pre-empting the release of the documents does not make the actions of AG Schuette ethical. Our FOIA request forced Schuette to admit to the crime of misusing state resources for campaign purposes (the same crime his public corruption unit is investigating as to, for example, former State Reps. Courser and Gamrat) that would have never come to light had we not forced his hand to transparency. We don’t know how widespread the problem is throughout his office or political history, and that is worth further investigation particularly given his role as chief law enforcement officer of the state.
4) We are still reviewing the hundreds of pages of documents that the AG thought they could simply package into a news dump on the day before a holiday when people are traveling and away from the office.
5) It’s disconcerting that Schuette felt it was necessary to spend state resources to send the results of our FOIA request to members of the media so he could put his own self-serving spin on them before we’ve even had a chance to review the documents. We can only believe that Schuette is trying to intimidate our office and the public by releasing political statements before we’ve had a chance to review the information. But it’s clear that Schuette has violated campaign finance law and is trying to cover his tracks by smearing our organization and downplaying his own problems in office. It is also possible that this tactic is simply an attempt at redirection from the original intent of our FOIA, to find out which lobbyists are in Schuette’s ear with their money in his campaign’s pocket.
“As a watchdog organization, we are committed to holding elected officials accountable despite the Attorney General’s attempts to silence us through outrageous fees, delays, and the latest smear attacks,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “We will be reviewing these documents closely and will release them to the public as we have always done. We believe Schuette’s attempt at a preemptive strike against our accountability efforts only make him look more guilty and aloof in the eyes of the public. Bill Schuette has been on a crusade against equality, clean air and water, and now it seems against Progress Michigan. He would do better to use his time protecting consumers and doing his job instead of fundraising and politicking for his run for Governor. ”
Here is the email in its entirety that was sent from Andrea Bitely with Schuette’s communications department. The email included over 200 pages of emails sought through Progress Michigan’s FOIA request:
We wanted to give you a heads up on a FOIA request from the anti-Schuette political attack machine known as Progress Michigan.
Results of FOIA requests are public information and I wanted to both make sure you saw the result in its totality and to save you some time from having to filter the facts out after their press release comes out.
In short, the FOIA is a fishing expedition seeking to find connections between our office and lobbyists. It sought to find emails from State of Michigan email accounts addressed to a particular list of private lobbyist email accounts. While lobbyists and issue interest groups contact all parts of state government as part of the democratic process, this search was meant to find something to fit Progress Michigan’s partisan attack rhetoric consistently aimed at damaging AG Schuette. But this fishing hole was empty.
However, FOIA laws were followed, of course, and we have attached the results in the interest of transparency.
Primarily, Attorney General Schuette’s emails included in the response show him diligently working on a multitude of issues, as is expected from the director of a state department, even when he is away from the office. That includes vacation, and even from his hospital bed. Bill is a workhorse.
About 10 emails from Bill were part of the FOIA. All of them took place while he is traveling outside the office, for work, on vacation and even from his hospital bed following hip surgery.
And while out of the office, Bill has used his personal iPad at times as one way to keep working.
That is important to understand because these emails were sent while he was using his personal iPad while away from the office—from his hospital bed, on the road for work, picking up his son from college, and while at home at night, for example.
1. The reason that is being noted is that his personal iPad uses his iPad contacts list, not just his state contacts, and in 9 instances some of the recipient emails addresses that automatically populated the “TO” box were his staff’s private emails, when he meant for them to be state emails.
You might snicker at that but understand that:
– Bill didn’t initiate any of these nine emails, and they were all sent to his state email address
– So, he was aware the emails he was sending were subject to FOIA. He was working.
In these 9 instances, all while on the road away from the office, he simply had issues pulling up the correct email address for recipients.
But because he sent them from his state account the recipients don’t matter, and they were saved per FOIA law and produced for this request, as the law intended. That obviously eliminates any claim he sought to avoid FOIA laws.
2. The 10th email, which I’d like to bring your attention to, is one I assume the good folks at Progress Michigan will attempt to twist into a negative headline.
Yet, the explanation is a simple one, devoid of mystery or dramatics.
Like all responsible office holders, Bill’s campaign committee employs a private fundraiser. And, like most people, while trying to fall asleep at night he suddenly remembers things that need to get done the next day.
In this single instance, outside working hours and at home at night using his personal internet connection, he grabbed his personal iPad and sent his fundraiser a message about extending invitations to an event. He simply did not realize at the time when he opened his iPad email icon that he was in his state account and initiated the brief email around 10 pm. It certainly was not intentional, there is no reason for it to be.
Bill loves music and is known to quote song lyrics. To put it in his parlance, while Bill is a hard-working AG, sometimes when it comes to computers he is more of a “Pinball Wizard” then a high-tech master.
As a result of this review, Bill is getting a State of Michigan iPad to use for his state email while he is outside his office to ensure state emails and personal emails remain separate.
Bill has made the following statement about this: “In my three decades of public service, I have never had an ethical blemish and I’m not starting now. I made a mistake when I sent that email from the wrong account and although it was accidental, I take full responsibility. To avoid any misunderstandings in the future, I plan to use a state device when sending state emails while on the road.”
The FOIA request was emailed today to Progress Michigan.