Email for sale — only $15 million!

Pax Arcana

The first line of defense for public officials trying to skirt public records laws is to demand exorbitant fees to cover the cost of turning them over. (Most public record laws allow government agencies to charge members of the public for the costs associated with the collection of the records — this usually includes the hourly rate of whatever clerk has to gather the stuff and $.25 per printed page, etc.)

I learned all this from Bill Dedman, former journalism professor at one of my illustrious alma maters and current investigative reporter for MSNBC.com.

Today Dedman reports that requests for emails related to Sarah Palin’s “work” as governor of Alaska (which by law belong to the public) will apparently cost news outlets $15 million — or roughly one season plus one month of J.D. Drew — to procure:

How did the cost reach $15 million? Let’s look at a typical request. When the Associated Press asked for all state e-mails sent to the governor’s husband, Todd Palin, her office said it would take up to six hours of a programmer’s time to assemble the e-mail of just a single state employee, then another two hours for “security” checks, and finally five hours to search the e-mail for whatever word or topic the requestor is seeking. At $73.87 an hour, that’s $960.31 for a single e-mail account. And there are 16,000 full-time state employees. The cost quoted to the AP: $15,364,960.

They can’t sort by addressee in Alaska?

Anyway, it seems like Alaska is in desperate need of $15 million, no matter what you request:

NBC’s price quote for e-mails sent to Todd Palin: $15 million.

The AP’s price for e-mails between state employees and the campaign headquarters of Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain: $15 million.

And the AP again, for e-mails between state employees and the National Park Service (on polar bears, wolves and other topics): $15 million.

Dedman reports that the governor’s office has used exorbitant fee demands to stave off or dissuade record requests for months. Also, the Anchorage Press is staffed by total pussies:

A weekly paper, the Anchorage Press, was told it would have to pay $6,500 for e-mails of Palin and three aides relating to the lieutenant governor. The request was withdrawn, with the newspaper offering the apology. “”Hi Linda – wow, that’s an expensive request I made,” reporter Brendan Joel Kelley wrote to state administrator Linda Perez. “In that case, I definitely don’t want to waste 60 hours of the state’s resources, whether we had the fee waived or not. Consider the request withdrawn. I had supposed/hoped that an electronic records request would be fairly simple.”

Brendan Joel Kelley would not have done well in Dedman’s class.

Want Palin’s e-mails? That’ll be $15 million [MSNBC.com]

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