"Government e-mails are public documents."
Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, authored legislation to that effect "I made it clear- e-mails are public records subject to the Sunshine Law."
During a wide-ranging interview with The Turner Report, Harris shared his plans to improve the Sunshine Law, which included:
-Shifting the burden of proof for Sunshine Law requests from the taxpayer to the governmental entity. "Documents would be presumed to be open," Harris said.
-Increase penalties for Sunshine Law violations from $1,000 to $5,000
-Create a Sunshine Law enforcement unit in the attorney general's office.
E-mails as government documents, accessible to the public, has been a central issue this year, stemming from accusations that Gov. Matt Blunt and his administration have been routinely destroying e-mails and not allowing access to messages that are clearly public records.
After Harris' criticized the governor's stance on the issue earlier this year, Blunt's chief of staff, Trish VIncent requested all of Harris' e-mails, in a transparent retaliatory move. After checking, Harris said, "We determined there were 80,000 pages and it would cost roughly $10,000 for labor and copying fees." It would have also taken some time to remove personal information such as Social Security numbers, he said.
After telling Ms. Vincent the cost, she narrowed her request to all e-mails on Feb. 20, 2008. "I have no idea why they chose that date," Harris said. He and his staff quickly provided the 280 pages, he said. "And I told her I wouldn't charge her"
Shortly after that, Harris received a $24 personal check from Trish Vincent, which he returned.
The requests from the Blunt administration for officials to provide e-mails for no other apparent reason than the fact they have criticized the governor is not going to sway Harris from continuing to fight the battle that started with the Blunt administration's firing of attorney Scott Eckersley. Since then, Attorney General Jay Nixon has fought to have the e-mails concerning the Eckersley situation released. Harris says that will not stop if he is elected to replace Nixon.
"I will continue the Eckersley lawsuit."
Harris also will fight to re-establish campaign contribution limits. Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved such limits in the 1990s, but the state legislature has twice voted to remove the limits. The first time, in 2007, the limits were eliminated for seven months before the Missouri Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional for technical reasons.
The legislature passed it again during the recently-completed session and the limits will be removed Aug. 28. "I will fight to put that on the ballot in 2010," Harris said. "Missourians should be able to vote to reinstate campaign contribution limits.
"I would like to see them put back on."
Harris also said he would work to stop the practice of having "the same person as treasurer for multiple committees," a practice which has allowed the laundering of campaign contributions.
"That is a practice that needs to be stopped."