The U.S. Postal Service has lost round one of a court fight over information sought by a California watchdog agency in connection with a case of alleged electoral dirty tricks.
In a ruling this month, Senior U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell said the mail carrier must tell the California Fair Political Practices Commission how many pieces of mail a former Los Angeles-area school board member sent out under his bulk mailing permit in late October 2008 as he faced a recall election. The Postal Service failed to show that the information was exempt from disclosure under the federal Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, Burrell wrote. He also dismissed the mail carrier’s claim that releasing the data could prompt some customers to turn to competitors not subject to FOIA.
Not clear yet whether the Postal Service will appeal. “We are studying the decision and weighing our legal options in consultation with the Department of Justice,” spokesman Dave Partenheimer said today in an email.
The California agency had sued in January, following up with a news release denouncing the Postal Service’s stance as “bizarre.” The commission wants the postal information because it suspects that William Eisen, the now-former school board member, sent out two mailings opposing his recall, but “falsely” indicated that a taxpayers’ group and regional political club were responsible. To make its case, however, the commission says it needs to know how many pieces of mail were sent out under Eisen’s permit around the time of the alleged violation. (Eisen was in fact recalled, incidentally, but denies wrongdoing.)
“There’s simply no other way to investigate such a matter unless the Postal Service is willing to provide this information,” Commission Chairwoman Ann Ravel said in a phone interview.
The Postal Service countered that the information is proprietary and “would not be a good business practice to disclose” under the Freedom of Information Act. That stance was backed by the Office of Government Information Services, a branch of the National Archives and Records Administration that seeks to mediate FOIA disputes, according to the commission’s lawsuit.
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