Tuesday, March 26, 2013

BREAKING NEWS: Founder Chris Korzen ‘quits’ Maine’s Majority #mepolitics

Published on thePhoenix.com

See the following email exchange (read up from the bottom). Not sure who's empowered to accept his resignation, but it's as clear as day: Chris Korzen is leaving the Maine's Majority group he founded. Further, he admits that does not understand the difference between requesting public records from the government to use in a publicity campaign to promote a political perspective and, well, requesting public records from the government to use in a publicity campaign to promote a political perspective. He's just sure that when he does it, it's good, and when Bruce Poliquin does it, it's bad.
Here's my last message to Chris:

You have made my exact point. Poliquin would likely say he is exposing abuse of the system, and that you're advertising. All I'm saying is that I don't want the government determining whether either, both, or neither of you is telling the truth. Open government and free speech can get messy, but the mess is better than the alternatives.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 2:17 PM, Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> wrote:
Please. Print this, so the world can see how ridiculous my life has become. If you don't, I will. If exposing abuse of the system is now synonymous with advertising, then seriously, I quit.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 2:14 PM, Inglis, Jeff <JInglis@phx.com> wrote:
In your 12:21 pm message you finally boiled down your argument against Poliquin to this:

"He used public information to advertise himself for business/political/personal purposes."

You did too.

You used public information (the results of your FOAA request that included Poliquin's request for the email list) to advertise yourself (your point of view, your organization, your political cause) for business/political/personal purposes (to promote your perspective on both a potential candidate and an existing state law).

(Okay, I'll let you off the hook on "personal," but with the observation that I hear more about Poliquin from MM than I do from the man himself - which is damn hard to do.)

And you do this all the time - you make FOAA requests, receive the results, and do with them what you want to.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 2:08 PM, Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> wrote:
I feel like I'm in the twilight zone here. How is what Poliquin did something that we do all the time?

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 2:07 PM, Inglis, Jeff <JInglis@phx.com> wrote:
Let me summarize:

-You put out a press release accusing Poliquin of doing something you do all the time, including the exact same thing you did in order to discover and publicize his action.
-You claim that what he did is "abuse" of FOAA.
-You claim what you did is not.
-You say that releasing the 10,000 email list would be "wrong" - though not illegal (and it's clearly legal).
-You admit that Poliquin did not release the email list.

So what message was I supposed to get from the press release? 

Right now I'm at:
Maine's Majority hates Poliquin so much it'll attack him for doing something MM does all the time, and is so out-of-its-head bothered by Poliquin's behavior that MM will attempt to take down Maine's open-government act in the process.

Somehow I think that's not the message you meant to send.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 1:59 PM, Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> wrote:
That's right - he has not.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 1:45 PM, Inglis, Jeff <JInglis@phx.com> wrote:
That's a fair point, and worth having a decent argument over. It's just not even close to what you said in the press release, or in any of our correspondence up until this very message. You also haven't claimed that Poliquin released the 10,000 email records to the public.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 1:41 PM, Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> wrote:
I do understand your point. I just think you're wrong. We released a public document consisting of an email from one public official to another. We did not release the 10,000 email records - which I do have in my possession. Releasing those records would have been wrong.

-------- Original message --------
From: "Inglis, Jeff" <JInglis@phx.com> 
Date: 03/26/2013 12:32 (GMT-05:00) 
To: Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> 
Subject: Re: PRESS RELEASE: Former Treasurer Poliquin abused Freedom of Access Act to obtain public list for personal use 

My point is that you're trying to object to his actions on a principle so broad it indicts your own actions. (And if the legislature agreed with you, we'd have no more open government at all - because the government would always retain control what's done with its information.)

It's extremely simple: You "used public information to advertise (yourself/your organization/your point of view/your cause) for business/political/personal purposes."

You object to what he did, but depend on doing the exact same thing to make your objection. I simply fail to see the difference, and you haven't made it any clearer.

I think it would be equally interesting to see if a broad segment of the public thinks we should shut down government transparency in an attempt to remedy spam.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 12:28 PM, Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> wrote:
I don't know where you're going with this, Jeff, but I've already answered this question.

It's a good question, though, and I hope you're planning to write about it. It would be interesting to hear what a broad segment of the public thinks constitutes abuse of the FOAA.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 12:25 PM, Inglis, Jeff <JInglis@phx.com> wrote:
I'm not sure you did either of those things - given that responding to FOAA is hardly collusion.

But what you're suggesting is that people shouldn't be allowed to use public information for business/political/personal purposes. That's pretty broad. So what should they be allowed to use public information for?

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 12:21 PM, Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> wrote:
Really? We exposed the government's abuse of the public trust and collusion with big-monied outside interests. That's exactly what FOAA is for.

He used public information to advertise himself for business/political/personal purposes.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 11:25 AM, Inglis, Jeff <JInglis@phx.com> wrote:
Perhaps more succinctly: What do you see as the difference between what he did and what you did?

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 11:16 AM, Inglis, Jeff <JInglis@phx.com> wrote:
And so the legislature has. FOAA stands as it does, making both your actions and Poliquins perfectly legal and procedurally and morally defensible. (Private contracts with private companies aside.)

Your complaining about it fails my logic, as follows:

1. It has been for years - and is likely never to change - legal to get voter registration information from the government, and send to those addresses mailings for political purposes - whether from a campaign or a political-action committee, or even an elected official doing constituent mailings. (I'm pretty sure Maine's Majority has used this process, too.)

2. It is a long-standing principle of open government that requests must be granted without regard to the requester's purpose. Example 1: If you ask for your neighbor's property-tax record from town hall, you must get it, whether you intend to take out a newspaper ad claiming your neighbor is a freeloading crony of local politicos who gets a break on his taxes, or whether you are going to contest your own property-tax assessment based on information relating to your neighbor's property, or if you want to frame it and put it on your living-room wall. Example 2: If you ask for correspondence with a state agency or official, you must get it, regardless of whether you are going to publish it in print, post it online, issue a press release, or keep it in a safe-deposit box.

3. Poliquin asked for an email list, which is public record under FOAA. The government had to give it to him, and can place no restrictions on what he does now.

4. You asked for correspondence, which is public record under FOAA. The government had to give it to you, and could place no restrictions on what you do with it now.

5. You imply that the government should be unable to prevent you from doing what you did, but definitely claim that the government ought to stop him from doing what he did.

6. You fail to make a distinction between these two acts, which are, again, utterly identical in procedural, legal, and moral terms.

7. When offered a suggestion of a more nuanced problem you might use to refine your argument, you not only reject that argument - which is an issue of public debate - but reiterate your insistence that the government should somehow control information that is in the hands of the public (or perhaps condition release of public information on the intent of the requester).

8. When asked for a means by which that could happen, you defer to the body that created the provisions you object to.

What am I missing?

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 11:06 AM, Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> wrote:
I'll let the Legislature write the laws.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 10:59 AM, Inglis, Jeff <JInglis@phx.com> wrote:
Okay, so what do you think should or shouldn't be allowed? And how would that be enforced?

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 10:55 AM, Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> wrote:
I don't have a problem with the public having access to personal information. I have a problem with the notion that it's OK for the public to do whatever they want with that information.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 10:38 AM, Inglis, Jeff <JInglis@phx.com> wrote:
What you seem to be saying suggests that my guess was right - your concern is not about abuse of FOAA, but rather about public access to personally identifying information, some of which has for many years been available through FOAA, with no problems.

Unless I'm terribly mistaken, you want to be able to continue to do what you did - ask a government agency for correspondence (including with private citizens), get that information unredacted, and announce to the public that a specific person, whose name you use, has done something or other.

That's exactly what you did. But the way you constructed your release suggested that you want to outlaw doing that exact thing - because you claimed that taking a government response to an FOAA request and using it for whatever you wanted should be prosecuted. Contrary to the language of your release, I think you and I agree that it's simply not an abuse of FOAA to use public information for your own gains.

If your concern is that Poliquin can get people's email addresses in bulk from the state, that's something very different than saying the government should have control over what the public does with public records that have been released.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 10:30 AM, Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> wrote:
Maybe we just live in different worlds, or maybe we just disagree. A lot of people I talk with are furious that the BDN tried to publish the names of concealed weapons permit holders. It doesn't matter that the BDN expressly said it wouldn't do this; the fact is that they could have, and that was enough for people. So, in that respect, at least part of FOAA now has a bad name. We're now likely going to lose the ability to verify that there aren't any felons running around out there with concealed handguns, because the public is afraid that information will be misused.

It seems that your point is that it's a necessary consequence of open government that your name can wind up in the paper or on an ex-treasurer's email list. It's a fair point. I simply disagree. I think we can make a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate use of FOAA data, and that they way to strengthen the legitimate uses is to denounce the illegitimate uses.

It's the same thing with SPAM. The law allows you to buy lists, harvest email addresses from web sites, etc. You can send these folks an individual email or compare them with your own list. But as soon as you send them a bulk email asking them to buy something you're on the hook for big penalties. That's a legal distinction between a legitimate and in illegitimate use of information. We can do the same with the FOAA.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 10:04 AM, Inglis, Jeff <JInglis@phx.com> wrote:
Since when does open government have a bad name? People give themselves bad names. Open government is an admirable concept. And almost never are open-government rules given criminal penalties - they're civil violations at best.

But where I'm really running into confusion is with your apparent idea that the government should (or even can) control what members of the public do with information they have in their possession.

The whole point of open government is so people can get information about their government. What they do with it, and why they ask for it, is not in the purview of open-government principles. In fact, it's counter to the ideal. If the government is going to prevent someone from disseminating, analyzing, or otherwise using the results of open-government requests, then how exactly is government open? ("We'll tell you how many people we're abusing in prison, but you can't tell anyone else?" That's the opposite of the point.)

I can't believe you're intentionally advocating that the government exercise prior restraint on use of public information. It strikes me as against your goals, and your group's goals, as well as being mutually exclusive. 

What if, for example, a person or group were allowed to ask for FOAA requests made by others, and the government says "We have to give it to you, but you are forbidden from telling others. They all have to ask individually for exactly the same thing." Your press release would vaporize, as a violation of the law. What you're claiming to want to outlaw is something you did in getting this information, something you do all the time, something news organizations and members of the public do constantly, and is in fact the reality of open government: Once information it out of government's hands, its dissemination and use is no longer under government control.

If I try to imagine what you might actually mean, I wonder if you are somehow trying to argue for protecting some types of personal information when it's in the government's hands - but that's a very different thing than suggesting someone who asks for information from the government should be restricted in how they use it.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 9:43 AM, Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> wrote:
They exist so the public can ensure that government is doing its job, not so aspiring piblic officials can build their email lists. I would love to see the law changed so we can prosecute people who do what Poliquin did. He gives open government a bad name.

-------- Original message --------
From: "Inglis, Jeff" <JInglis@phx.com> 
Date: 03/26/2013 09:35 (GMT-05:00) 
To: Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> 
Subject: Re: PRESS RELEASE: Former Treasurer Poliquin abused Freedom of Access Act to obtain public list for personal use 

He may well have violated terms of a private agreement with a private company. That's not my beef - and it doesn't seem to be yours, either, from the release.

You're claiming it's an "abuse" of open-government laws for a requester to get information from the government and use it for whatever the requester wants. 

Problem is, there's no other purpose of open-government laws - they exist so that people can ask questions of their government and get answers, and then publicize those answers, for whatever purpose the requester has.

Go ahead and shout about him breaking the rules of Constant Contact. Nobody cares, and you know that - which is why you made the release sound like he had misused open-government laws, when he used them exactly properly. And so did you, in announcing to people that he did this. The issue comes when you call both of those things - which are procedurally, legally, and morally identical - "abuse."

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 9:31 AM, Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> wrote:
He's going to lose his Constant Contact account over this. I'll take my chances with the court of public opinion.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 9:27 AM, Inglis, Jeff <JInglis@phx.com> wrote:
If it's "abuse" to make FOAA requests and use the resulting information for whatever your private purposes are, you're as guilty as Poliquin. Which, by the way, is not guilty of anything at all.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 9:23 AM, Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> wrote:
And your job? Pretending that abuse doesn't happen because you're afraid of the consequences? The only reason why we know he did this is that we were obtained his request through another FOAA request. The system works. Go write that story.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 9:16 AM, Inglis, Jeff <JInglis@phx.com> wrote:
Sucks that your job is weakening open government.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 9:13 AM, Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> wrote:
Jeff, Jeff, Jeff... I really don't care. This is my job.

On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 9:10 AM, Inglis, Jeff <JInglis@phx.com> wrote:
Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris - 

It's a VERY slippery and dangerous slope to try to start dictating what can and can't be done with public records after they're released to the public. Please don't weaken Maine's existing open-government laws further by pursuing this.


On Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 9:07 AM, Chris Korzen <chris@mainesmajority.org> wrote:

Inline image 1

For Immediate Release
March 26, 2013

Chris Korzen

Former Treasurer Bruce Poliquin abused Freedom of Access Act to obtain public list for personal use

Portland – In February 2013, mass emails from a personal account of former state treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Poliquin began inexplicably turning up in some Mainers' inboxes. A Maine's Majority investigation has determined that Poliquin obtained the emails through a Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) request, and subsequently used this public information for his own personal gain.

In the early hours of December 9, 2012, Poliquin submitted an FOAA request to the Treasurer's office for “a copy of all email and other addresses used in the Office of the State Treasurer's Outreach Program.” In response, he received 10,742 email addresses. Five days earlier, the legislature had confirmed Neria Douglass to succeed Poliquin, effectively ending his tenure as treasurer.

Some two months later, Mr. Poliquin began sending bulk emails to the owners of those addresses through a Constant Contact email marketing system. The emails are political in nature (titled, for example, "How to Fix Maine's Ongoing Budget Crisis”) and point recipients toward a brucepoliquin.net web site.

“Although Mr. Poliquin legally obtained his former office's email records, his personal use of this public information constitutes a blatant abuse of the Freedom of Access Act,” said Maine's Majority executive director Chris Korzen. “Poliquin is clearly trying to set himself up for a future election bid, and he's now using state resources to build his communications infrastructure. He should stop using this publicly-owned email list immediately.”

Ironically, at least one influential Maine Republican appears to agree. Earlier this month, Sportsman's Alliance of Maine director and former state representative David Trahan told the Maine Heritage Policy Center's Maine Wire blog, “FOAA was designed for citizens to keep government in line, not for political targeting.”

While Poliquin does not appear to have broken any laws, he has likely violated Constant Contact's Anti-Spam policy, which requires users to obtain informed consent from recipients before sending bulk email.