Eric Schmitt, the handpicked attorney general of Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, missed the deadline to answer a relatively simple question: Can the governor legally withhold information from public records?
In May, Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway asked Schmitt for an opinion on whether Parson’s policy of redacting information related to individuals conducting business with the state was in violation of Missouri’s open records law.
The attorney had 90 days to reply.
Citing other ongoing inquiries, Schmitt ignored the deadline for Galloway’s request for legal clarification.
In the absence of an answer, perhaps we can help: The First Amendment does not provide any government entity the right to operate in secret. Taxpayers should know who is lobbying the state and influencing decisions.
Parson’s administration, which has been removing phone numbers, addresses and email addresses of citizens who communicate with the governor, argues that withholding public information is somehow a First Amendment issue. That twisted logic flies in the face of open government and transparency — the chief aims of the state’s Sunshine Law.
The guarantee of free speech does not give Parson or any other public official free rein to suppress information in public documents. And Schmitt should make time in his busy schedule to clarify that the First Amendment is no defense for hiding information from taxpayers.