The California Senate Rules Committee is stonewalling requests from the media to release the legislative calendars of its members, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Three recent requests from the newspaper for the calendars were rebuffed despite the fact that the legislature is reeling from recent misdeeds by senators and is assiduously trying to repair its tarnished image with regard to ethical behavior.
More specifically, state Sen. Leland Yee’s arrest on public corruption charges triggered the interest in his legislative calendar, and the legislature’s refusal to show transparency has critics outraged.
Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, told the Mercury News, “Democracy only works when voters know what their representatives are doing (or not doing) permits voters to hold reps accountable, which is the essence of democracy.”
The Mercury News had requested calendars and other Yee-related documents because it wanted to expand its coverage of the details from the 137-page federal complaint filed against Yee, his fundraiser Keith Jackson, and former Chinatown gang leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow. Finding out which people Yee met and when he met them could add to information already revealed.
Unlike other political groups in California, such as the San Jose City Council or the governor’s office, who routinely reveal their appointment calendars online, the California Senate refuses to divulge such information. The governor’s office, under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, made a deal with media organizations in 2004 to release the calendars to the public.
But the Legislature has been stonewalling since 2010, when the Associated Press was rejected in its attempt to garner such information.
Meanwhile, the Senate is frantically trying to erase the stain on its reputation from the arrest of Yee and the pending criminal charges against state Sens. Roderick Wright and Ron Calderon. Senate President Darrell Steinberg first suspended the three men, then restricted campaign fundraising and contact with lobbyists. But hearing of the Rules Committee’s denial of permission to view the calendars, Mark Hedlund, a spokesman for Steinberg, told the Mercury News last week that releasing Yee’s calendar “may jeopardize” the ongoing criminal investigation.
Leila Knox, an attorney representing the First Amendment Coalition, disagreed, the Mercury News reports: “It all goes to the decision-making process. How do laws get made. How legislators think. Knowing who legislators are meeting with helps the public understand the democratic process.”