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Here’s What Happened When Open the Books Tried to Get Details on Wyoming State Spending

Published: June 21, 2018
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Source: Michael Krieger

Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of OpenTheBooks, has written a interesting article at Forbes detailing what happened when the non-profit government transparency organization tried to get details about Wyoming state spending.

Here’s what we learned from the piece, Wyoming State Auditor Charged Us $8,000 And We’ll Finally Receive The State Checkbook By 2048:

On February 18, 2018, State Auditor Cynthia Cloud made us refile our open records request for the Wyoming state checkbook and then charged us $8,000 in fees. But production has been slow – and at this pace, we’ll receive all the records by 2048.

Why would it take 30 years to produce just five years of state spending?

Wyoming receives an “F” in transparency from the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C. This should be embarrassing for Wyoming elected officials. It shouldn’t take a search warrant, subpoena, or litigation to force open the state checkbook expenditures.

Our organization at vowed to move Wyoming’s grade from an “F” to an “A.” However, we’ve received a lot of resistance from the state auditor – the office responsible for cutting the checks and paying the bills.

Twice, Cloud won statewide election with 99 percent of the vote after promising transparency and accountability in Cheyenne. Contrary to these political promises, her office rejected our open record requests for a line-by-line state checkbook for three straight years (2015, 2016, and 2017).

In January, we threatened litigation. Our demand letter was published on the front page of the Sunday newspaper at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. This caused the auditor’s office to drop their public objections. Instead, they invoiced us for nearly $8,000. With the help of the Equality State Taxpayers’ Association based in Wyoming and their chairman Bill Doenz, we paid the draconian fee.

Now, it’s been 15 weeks since we filed our latest request for the state checkbook. We demanded record production on a rolling basis. So far, we’ve received just 12 days of state spending records. At this rate, it’ll take 30 years to receive all the records we paid for (5 years – 1,300 work days).

By moving slowly, what is the office of auditor hiding?

Last year, in an editorial at the Casper Star-Tribune, we pointed outthat Wyoming taxes funded $35,000 for a magician at the Department of Education STEM conference; $15,000 for a documentary on Dutch Hop Dance; and $60,000 for a no-bid contract to “increase awareness” in the state’s child support division.

We’re concerned the state auditor’s office – whose job it is to stop waste, fraud, corruption and taxpayer abuse – is behaving in violation of transparency laws. Why were we charged a massive $8,000 fee when the office is tasked with paying the bills, auditing the books, and fulfilling open records requests? It’s the job description of the office.

The state constitution, the federal constitution, and existing Wyoming law all support our effort to capture a complete record of public spending in Wyoming. In fact, we’ve collected data from 227 individual units of Wyoming government during the past year, including the University of Wyoming.

Over the past three years, Cloud and Deputy State Auditor Sandy Urbanek made some ridiculous claims to hide state spending. Here are just a few examples:

  • It’s an “undue burden.” False. The auditor argues on her website that transparency is a top priority of her office. Well, a top priority can’t be an undue burden.
  • It’ll take “years and years” for checkbook production. False. In 2016, we found the auditor’s office contracted for a $63-million accounting software package. How fast do you think this software can produce a basic line-by-line checkbook?
  • It’s “private information.” False. The addresses of state vendors are not private information as initially claimedby the auditor. Government vendor data is public information in all 50 states and at the federal level.
  • The records are “purged.” False. When we narrowed our checkbook request to what’s posted on the auditor’s ‘transparency’ website, she rejected the request saying the records were purged. Really, wouldn’t that violate Wyoming record destruction statutes?

At one point, the attorney general and state auditor wrongly arguedthat providing state public employee salaries was an “undue burden.” Thankfully, Governor Matt Mead’s administration had already produced 10,000 state employee salaries in less than two weeks without any fees.

Wyoming politicians should be reminded that transparency has a foundational basis in the Appropriations Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9 which states:

“… a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”

Slow-walking records subject to open records statutes raises troubling questions for Wyoming taxpayers. Just what is hidden inside the Wyoming state checkbook? We are fighting for a speedy answer.

We’ve reached out to Auditor Cloud for comment and will update the piece if there is a response. Read the full summary and timeline of our Wyoming Transparency ProjectReview our demand letter for state checkbook production with a July 15, 2018 deadline.

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Open the Books is a nonpartisan, non-profit organization focused on providing transparency in government. I’m honored to have them as a Liberty Blitzkrieg partner since 2015.

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