Iowa Capital Dispatch and our associate editor Clark Kauffman joined other media organizations in a lawsuit filed last week by the Iowa ACLU to enforce the Iowa Open Meetings and Records Act.
The lawsuit names Governor Kim Reynolds, his office, staff attorney, and the office’s current and former communications directors as plaintiffs.
As the editor of the Capital Dispatch, I wanted to make it clear to our readers and the people of Iowa what this lawsuit is all about.
First, here’s what the trial is NOT about:
It is not about partisanship. Iowa Capital Dispatch has no position, official or otherwise, on the governor’s campaign for re-election. As a non-profit organization, we cannot support or oppose candidates for public office. If a governor from another party had violated the state’s open files law to the extent that Reynolds’s office did, we wouldn’t hesitate to take the same action. We are not here to try to make the governor look bad or to influence next year’s election. It is not our role.
It is not for the money or the publicity. The lawsuit asks for no restitution, just legal fees that would cover the costs of ACLU of Iowa to represent us and the other plaintiffs in the case. Iowa Capital Dispatch is a relatively new medium that launched in January 2020. However, we are already well established as a go-to source for state government information and investigative reports on matters of public importance. The Washington Post recently featured Iowa Capital Dispatch in an article about our organization’s efforts to fill gaps in media coverage caused by the decline of the newspaper industry.
Being part of a trial like this is a sacrifice, not a publicity stunt. We know that people who are already wary of the media will not believe it is not partisan and some of them may treat us differently. There is usually a price to be paid for standing up for what is right.
It is not about personalities. Speaking only to me, it would have been an easier decision to continue with this action if I didn’t like the people on the other side on a personal level or if I had as much respect for tough jobs as I did. they have. But having important, difficult, and busy jobs is no excuse for ignoring the law. It’s not personal and I wish it wasn’t necessary.
Here’s why we felt we had no choice.
It is about democracy. The Iowa Open Meetings and Records Act is vital to democracy in this state. The law requires government officials, including the governor, to make public documents available to anyone who requests them. There are exceptions to this law, but office holders must respond promptly to all requests for documents, and they have only a limited period of time and must cite any legal justification for withholding any document they deem confidential. .
Without the ability to access public documents and information, citizens must rely on what government officials choose to tell them what they are doing and how they are spending taxpayer dollars. If elected officials choose not to answer questions from journalists or citizens, the open archives law may be the only alternative. If an elected official, like Governor Reynolds, chooses to ignore legitimate requests for public information for months, as his office has done, there is little recourse other than seeking a court order.
Unless media organizations and First Amendment advocates like the Iowa ACLU and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council are prepared to fight for the enforcement of this law, she will become quickly meaningless. It would harm all residents of that state.
It is our responsibility to defend press freedom and also the rights of every citizen to access the information they need to hold the government to account. That is why we are participating in this trial and why we will continue to push for open and transparent government.
Iowa Capital Dispatch Editor-in-Chief Kathie Obradovic has covered Iowa government and politics for over 30 years, most recently as a political columnist and opinion writer for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on national, national and international news programs. She has directed the award-winning national coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.