This week, my content partners here at Talk Business did a follow-up story on the Republican Party of Arkansas’ requesting of public documents generated by state employees who also happened to be political bloggers.
Matthew Campbell and Jeff Woodmansee were the state employees in question who wrote on the now defunct blog, "Blue Hog Report." The RPA tried to prove the bloggers did political work while on state time, which is against the law. Their document fishing expedition turned up no wrong-doing or illegal activity, but the RPA’s subsequent actions dramatically damaged their credibility.
There’s nothing wrong with requesting public documents to make sure a state employee isn’t conducting political activity during business hours. If the bloggers used state computers and/or blogged on state government time, then that is a legitimate issue.
However, the RPA forwarded their initial FOI request, before receiving any documents, to reporters essentially accusing the bloggers of illegal activity. The RPA later culled through the hundreds of documents and recently stated that "certain emails retrieved suggested political activity could be occurring on state time."
Here’s the kicker: they refused to show proof to back-up their accusations of illegal activity and refused multiple requests to release the evidence they claimed they possessed.
Accusing a private citizen of breaking the law, but providing no evidence to back it up, is irresponsible and frankly disgusting. I understand the role of political parties is, in part, to throw rhetorical bombs, but they must always back-up their claims and accusations.
What destroyed the RPA’s credibilty is when Jason Tolbert reviewed the exact same e-mails the RPA claimed showed political activity and proved they in fact did NOT show political activity. You can read Tolbert’s full post on the e-mails here, but the e-mails were innocuous with a couple of e-mails between state employees barely touching on political topics and are completely acceptable.
Most importantly, there’s no proof of political blogging on state time and no mass e-mails to voters asking them to vote a certain way. I can only assume the RPA thought no one else would review the documents, thus allowing them to get away with "bearing false witness" against the state employees. Turns out they were wrong.
After hearing all the facts and their false accusations, the RPA has shown they have no class and more importantly, no credibility. Until they apologize for falsely accusing private citizens of breaking the law, their word is mud.