Governor’s Labor Talk Gives Way To Open Records Shuffle

Collective bargaining for state employees may not seem like a boiling topic when compared to controversial debates on immigration or gay marriage, but the issue has garnered enough attention to spawn at least six open records requests directed at the legislature’s House and Senate offices in the past two weeks.

Under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA)– a local relative to the federal Freedom of Information Act–members of the public are allowed to submit CORA requests for a wide variety of government documents. After it was revealed through an initial records inquiry that the Governor’s office was conversing with union officials on proposed legislation that may or may not give collective bargaining privileges to state workers, more CORAs were sent off–with one aimed at Colorado Confidential and other organizations. Brad Jones, a consultant with strong ties to the Republican Party and founder of the FaceTheState “free-market news site,” made news at the beginning of the month when he first requested initial documents revealing that Governor Bill Ritter was having conversations regarding collective bargaining.

Last week, Jones also filed an open records inquiry targeting the groups Colorado Media Matters, Progress Now, and Colorado Confidential. The request was sent to the Senate Majority Office, and sought communications between office officials and employees with the aforementioned organizations.

Colorado Media Matters, an organization with the self-described mission of monitoring “conservative misinformation” from the state’s media outlets, has been one of the harshest critics of Jones, documenting no less than 13 cases of what the group says are falsehoods and distortions regarding FaceTheState and its founder. Progress Now is a Denver-based non-profit organization that works to advance what it calls “progressive solutions.”

In an interview last week, Jones cited both groups as being members of the state’s “liberal establishment.”

“As we’ve documented pretty extensively, Jones on his website frequently publishes false information and other misinformation of the basest variety to promote extreme right-wing points of view,” says Colorado Media Matters editorial director Bill Menezes. “This fishing expedition sounds like an extension of those activities, and likely comes at the urging of his state Republican Party masters, whose talking points he typically parrots. ” 

Colorado Confidential submitted its own CORA request on Sept. 6, a day after news broke about the Governor’s labor talks, asking a second time for any communications between Jones, FaceTheState, and the Senate Minority Office.  The first inquiry was sent in April, when Colorado Confidential wrote an article on connections between Jones and ColoradoSenateNews.com, a Web site maintained by state employees with the minority office. Around the same time, Colorado Confidential also featured a piece on ColoradoHouse.org, a Web page run by the House Majority Office, outlining the differences between the two sites.

After reporting on Ritter’s state employee conversations, the Rocky Mountain News sent off four CORAs to the majority and minority offices in the Senate and House requesting communications regarding union issues. The daily paper later found and reported on a list of GOP talking points from the House Minority Office, one of which was to bring up the issue of “union bosses.”

In response to Colorado Confidential’s second request, the Senate Minority Office continues to maintain that no such records between Jones and the office exist.


Also see:
A Brief Look At The CORA

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About the Author

Erin Rosa

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature.

Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state.

Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters.

She can be reached at erosa@coloradoindependent.com.

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