PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Patricia Morgan, Rhode Island’s house minority leader, says the state should waive a hefty bill for fulfilling public records requests she made related to questions over the use of a landmark settlement with Google. She told reporters Wednesday she is going to take her fee waiver request to the state Superior Court.
But the office of Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, which she requested the information from, says it’s not going to give her “special” treatment it wouldn’t give the average citizen.
In April 2012, the attorney general’s office announced $230 million of a $500 million settlement would be coming to Rhode Island. Google paid the penalty after allegations it allowed Canadian pharmacies to place ads online targeting consumers in the United States, resulting in illegal importing of prescription drugs not approved by the FDA. The Justice Department would have to approve how Rhode Island agencies would spend that money. It would be shared among the attorney general’s office, the state police, the Rhode Island National Guard, and the police departments of North Providence and East Providence.
Morgan believes the Google money is being improperly used – for the attorney general’s operating expenses, including maintenance and utility costs.
To find out more details on where the Google money was going, Morgan filed public records requests – known as APRA requests, for the Access to Public Records Act – but anyone requesting these records must pay for the printing or photocopying costs.
So far, Morgan said, she has paid $3,750 for printouts. And stacks of them have been redacted, according to Morgan, showing pages of text with large squares of information blacked out.
“They are redacting the most insignificant information,” she said, including information that is publicly available, like business telephone numbers.
In a statement, the attorney general’s office said Wednesday it has been “100 percent transparent” and compliant with state and federal officials on how the settlement funds were disbursed, noting the DOJ’s approval of all spending. (In 2017, Target 12 reported that the DOJ froze the state police’s ability to spend “equitable sharing funds” like the Google money because they wanted to review whether the police followed proper procedures.)
Amy Kempe, the attorney general’s spokeswoman, said Kilmartin’s office has already provided 6,512 documents to Morgan and on Monday, notified her that a second wave of documents, totaling 6,437 pages, was ready for her to pick up, including invoices for the 2018 fiscal year. As of Wednesday, she had yet to take delivery of the documents. Morgan said she was told she’d have to pay at minimum $4,000 for them.
The redactions are permitted by state law, Kempe added; they include identifiable information from account numbers to invoice numbers to passwords – as well as copyrighted material – “and the redacted information in no way advances the public interest as defined by the APRA and as asserted by [Morgan].”
“It’s disappointing that an elected official, especially someone serving in a position of leadership, has so little understanding of our state’s open government laws and is consistently disingenuous in her statements to the public and the Courts on this subject,” Kempe said. “One cannot willingly put their head in the sand and then claim it’s dark out.”
Morgan said similar records fees have been waived elsewhere in the government, such as a $400 fee for documents from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, when a protest was lodged.