Daily Herald- Guest View, Comptroller Topinka Misunderstands Illinois Freedom of Information (FOIA) Law
by Adam Andrzejewski
CEO, nonprofit For The Good of Illinois
January 9, 2013
Read original editorial here: http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20130114/discuss/701149971/
Illinois Comptroller Topinka is responsible for paying the state’s bills. She is also the only public official in Illinois to reject our Freedom of Information Act request for the line-by-line state checkbook information showing these transactions. That’s why we filed a lawsuit.
In her 2012 denial of our request, she argued that producing such data over a three day period was an “undue burden.” In her response to our suit, she says the data is on her website. First, both statements can’t be true, and second, it doesn’t matter.
The Comptroller’s office claims that the information we requested is on her website, yet we have information from other sources indicating that there is data missing. More important, what is or isn’t on the Comptroller’s website has no bearing on her duty to comply with a valid Freedom of Information Act request. Frankly, every citizen in Illinois deserves access to raw government data to analyze and present in the format they choose.
To allow government officials to decide the extent, presentation, and format of public data is to allow the fox to guard the henhouse – particularly in Illinois. You can hide a lot of wrongdoing in aggregating a line item.
Other agencies have complied with our requests, indicating that producing this data not difficult. The City of Chicago sent us ten years of their checkbook producing nearly seven million lines of individual transactions. This included purchase order numbers, fund accounts, department codes, check numbers, vendor names, dates, and the amount of the check. Illinois universities complied as well.
We were forced to file this suit because the Comptroller didn’t follow, and the Attorney General didn’t enforce, a straight-forward law. The people have a right to see this data. It’s that simple.