Gov. Sanders sued by blogger Matt Campbell over FOIA denial

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 2,932 views 

Blue Hog Report blogger and attorney Matt Campbell said he filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Court late Tuesday (Oct. 24) against Gov. Sarah Sanders for her office’s denial of a request for documents under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

The lawsuit, which Campbell said was filed late Tuesday afternoon but has not been processed by the court, claims the governor is in violation of the FOIA for not providing information requested. Sanders’ legal counsel, Cortney Kennedy, told Campbell the documents he was seeking are covered under the governor’s working papers exemption.

Campbell disputes that notion.

On Monday (Oct. 23), Campbell requested electronic copies by email of emails to or from First Gentleman Bryan Sanders, a copy of his Outlook calendar, and “bills of lading and other documents” that show the shipping or delivery of a $19,000 lectern ordered from Beckett Events.

“None of these are working papers, as Bryan Sanders is not ‘staff’ or an ’employee’ of the Governor, and shipping/delivery documents are not unpublished memoranda, communications, or working papers of the Governor by any stretch [of] the definition,” Campbell wrote in an email to Kennedy.

Kennedy responded the office was exempted from providing them.

“To the extent that our office possesses any such records that may be responsive to your request, those records are exempt from disclosure from our office pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. 25-19-105(b)(7) (exempting ‘[u]npublished memoranda, working papers, and correspondence of the Governor’). The Arkansas Attorney General has interpreted that ‘emails sent to the Governor or to members of his staff and copies of e-mails that are sent by the Governor or to his staff are not obtainable from the Governor’s office… Accordingly, we respectfully deny your request.’”

Bryan Sanders, husband of Gov. Sanders, was named in January to voluntarily lead a newly named Natural State Advisory Council. The council includes 17 business and state leaders with ties to Arkansas’ outdoors and tourism industries. The group is charged with making recommendations on how the Governor can advance outdoor recreation and the outdoor economy in Arkansas. Bryan Sanders is not paid for his work with the council.

The $19,000 lectern at the center of Campbell’s request has been a controversial issue for nearly two months. Sanders’ office approved the expenditure for a lectern from Beckett Events, a Virginia-based events company founded by a Republican political consultant and lobbyist. After Campbell began probing the lectern transaction, the Republican Party of Arkansas said it reimbursed the state for the purchase from leftover gubernatorial inaugural funds, and the lectern would be available to all constitutional officers for use. The transaction is being reviewed by the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee.

You can read Campbell’s lawsuit at this link. Campbell is asking the judge to order the defendant to “provide the requested records immediately (or in such time period as this Court deems appropriate) and without any illegal redactions of disclosable information.”

Gov. Sanders’ office declined to comment for this story.