Clinton took office in 2009, when state department regulations affirmed that: “It is the Department’s general policy that normal day-to-day operations be conducted on an authorized Automated Information System.” However, the internal rules list numerous exceptions, and the agency has stated that it had “no prohibition” on the use of private email for work purposes. The only specific requirement for all employees was that any e-mail sent or received from a personal account had to be kept and maintained so as to be included in the State Department’s personal records.
A number of Republican presidential candidates have maintained private e-mail accounts to carry on public business. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush maintained his own server and released numerous emails he felt were required under state law. But just like Clinton, how he determined what was “public” was left up to him. Texas governor Rick Perry agrees that his emails on state business should be public, so but he simply wipes them out every thirty days. So much for maintaining pubic records.
Minnesota Governor Scott Walker and his staff used private email accounts to carry on public business mingled with political campaigning that led to the conviction of several of his appointees. And New Jersey governor Chris Christie is presently entangled in a number of lawsuits for ignoring his state’s public records law.
At one time, Louisiana had the strongest public records law in America. I know a little about this as I was the author of Louisiana’s first public records act along with the state’s first open meetings law back in 1976 when I was in the State Senate. But little by little, the intent of public transparency has been undermined. Jindal, according to the Associated Press, uses a private email account to communicate with his staff, just like Clinton. Public records requests are generally ignored by Jindal and his staff, so the Governor will be long gone before his public business decisions through email are revealed. That is, assuming he and his staff do not “scrub” their email servers.
I agree with a limited exclusion to the public records requirements for contract negotiations along with decisions on higher and firing of public employees. But such exceptions should be narrowly interpreted and violations should be strongly enforced. The test is simply one of content driven analysis in that if an action is done in the pursuit of the public interest, it becomes a public document. Unfortunately, Louisiana has gone from a state the led the nation in openness and transparency in public decisions, to a backward bastion of secrecy and unaccountability.
Should public officials carry on public business through private e-mail accounts? Absolutely not. It is so easy today to set up several email accounts on the same server. If public activity is being undertaken, then use the public account. If someone is conducting private business, they can easily switch over to a private account. But a public official, who uses a sequestered email account that only he or she has access to, is violating both the spirit and the letter of the law in most states including Louisiana,
The public’s right to know is a basic premise for any democracy. Communications that lead to public decisions by public officials need to be scrutinized. That applies to Hillary Clinton who is presently on the email hot seat, as well as Bobby Jindal and all the other presidential aspirants. It’s the right thing to do, the public deserves such openness, and it’s the law.
“A government by secrecy benefits no one. It breeds distrust, dampens the fervor of its citizens and mocks their loyalty.”
Louisiana Senator Russell Long
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.