Gov. Sanders sings a stack of new bills into law. One of them is a rollback on government transparency. Brian Chilson

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is celebrating after Arkansas lawmakers granted her wish to be able to conceal from the public, in perpetuity, information about who she traveled with on the state dime, and how much it cost taxpayers.

“After months of the bad actors weaponizing FOIA to attack our heroes in law enforcement, I was proud to sign a new law today with bipartisan support to empower our state police to do their jobs,” Sanders said on Twitter shortly after the week’s legislative special session delivered nearly everything on her wish list.

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But were bad actors really bombarding those heroes at the Arkansas State Police with requests for information that might be used to hatch nefarious plots that put Arkansas’s first family in danger, as the governor suggests? Nah.

Matthew Moore, a public radio reporter at KUAF in Northwest Arkansas, asked Arkansas State Police for all the requests they’d gotten this calendar year for flight logs, passenger manifests and travel reimbursements.

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Five! That’s how many requests for this information the Arkansas State Police fielded this year. Three of those came from Blue Hog blogger and Little Rock attorney Matt Campbell, the man whose inquiries launched what’s come to be known as the Blue Hog Special Session. The other two — one from Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Mike Wickline and one from Moore himself — were simply requests to see the three requests Campbell had made.

None of the requests came from the two men who’ve been arrested for making threats about Sanders and other Republican politicians. Sanders and her supporters repeatedly referenced a man in Arkansas and another in Oklahoma to justify hiding past and future travel and security expenses from the public.

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“None of those requests include the children. None of those requests were for ‘security plans.’ None of those requests were from the Oklahoma man who threatened the Governor and was later arrested,” Moore tweeted Friday.

In fact, no requests for this information came from anyone except Campbell, who knew the law and knew that passenger lists and expenses for governors’ travels have long been lawfully available for public inspection.

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Sanders initially set out to all but erase the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act this week, after Campbell made a few standard public information requests that must have really gotten under her skin.

A ragtag bipartisan army fought off most of the FOIA rollback. They couldn’t stop the security piece though, despite bipartisan criticism that the new exemption goes far beyond security and will hide receipts and travel manifests for publicly funded trips.

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Campbell’s requests that seemingly set this ball rolling were lawful at the time, and should have been granted under existing law; Arkansas State Police routinely granted access to the same information under previous administrations. They balked under the new Sanders administration though, denying information requests from Campbell since June.

Travel logs and expenses for the governor are no longer public, as of yesterday.

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This week Campbell came down with COVID-19 and dropped his lawsuit against Arkansas State Police to procure the denied records. He said he plans to re-file.

And he’s even been able to hunt down some fresh information.

 

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