Massachusetts considering ban on Romney records

BOSTON Tue Nov 29, 2011 6:51pm EST

Mitt Romney holds a campaign rally on the steps of City Hall in Nashua, New Hampshire, November 20, 2011.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Mitt Romney holds a campaign rally on the steps of City Hall in Nashua, New Hampshire, November 20, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder

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BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts officials are reviewing a 14-year-old state court ruling to determine whether they should ban public access to paper records generated by leading Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney when he was the state's governor.

Officials said the review, revealed to Reuters, began after they received a surge of requests for records from Romney's governorship. It was not prompted by a request from Romney camp, they said.

The review follows reports by the Boston Globe newspaper last week that just before Romney left the governor's office in 2007, 11 of his top aides purchased their state-issued computer hard drives and internal emails from Romney's administration were wiped from a state server.

Republican and Democratic foes of Romney say the email scrub and questions about whether the public should have access to Romney's gubernatorial papers undermine efforts to assess his dealings as a politician and elected official.

Romney was governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007 and worked with a Democratic-led state house to close a budget shortfall. He signed a healthcare overhaul that required nearly all state residents to buy insurance or face penalties.

Massachusetts' healthcare law became a model for President Barack Obama's nationwide healthcare overhaul, enacted into law last year.

As a presidential candidate, however, Romney has criticized "Obamacare," calling it an overreach by the federal government. His views on healthcare are criticized in TV ads by the Democratic National Committee that cast him as a flip flopper.

At issue in the state review is Massachusetts officials' confusion over what rights the public has to see Romney's records, and what rights he has to keep them private.

State records typically are considered state property; Massachusetts' law grants public access to such records as long as certain types of data, such as personal information, are redacted.

However, officials say, a state court ruling in 1997 could be interpreted to mean that the governor's records are not subject to public disclosure requirements.

A long-time Romney adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity said the former governor believes that records generated by his office are not public documents. Noting that Romney voluntarily archived hundreds of boxes of records that have been available to the public, the adviser said that "we have no objection at all" to continued public access to those papers.

Publicly, Romney's campaign said that questions about the former governor's handling of his administration's records were politically motivated.

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said that present Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, was trying to cast Romney as secretive about his record in office.

"It looks like Deval Patrick is doing the Obama campaign's dirty work," Saul said. "We expect to see more of these political attacks to distract from Obama's horrible record on jobs. In leaving office, the governor's staff complied with the law and longtime executive branch practice. Some employees exercised the option to purchase computer equipment when they left. They did so openly with personal checks."

CONFUSION

The confusion over how the state's open records law applies to Romney's papers has been particularly evident this week.

Monday, a senior state archivist told a Reuters reporter that because of the policy review, the state archives two or three weeks ago had been told to shut off public access to all Romney papers it held, including documents that previously were available for public review.

Later that day, a spokesman for Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, the official in charge of the state archives, said the ban on access to Romney's records was in force only for a few days and archivists were now free to give access to records that previously had been made public.

However, officials indicated that for now, archivists will not process requests for disclosure of previously undisclosed Romney papers.

Michael Comeau, director of operations for the Massachusetts State Archives, said that since Romney left office, only about 20 percent of an estimated 600 to 700 boxes of his records held by the archives had been made public. That disclosure followed a review of their contents by non-political archivists who removed or redacted material, such as personal information, whose disclosure is restricted by law.

A catalog of box titles compiled by the archivists indicates that some of the contents relate to controversial issues that arose during Romney's governorship. Those include health care, same-sex marriage, and problems with the "Big Dig" a massive tunnel and highway project through Boston.

Journalists who went through some of the boxes when Romney briefly entered the last Republican presidential race four years ago found little controversial or illuminating material.

State officials said they did not know whether Romney or his aides went through or removed any material from the files before they were turned over to the state archives.

Galvin's spokesman, Brian McNiff, said the state review is continuing and he did not know when it would be completed. Galvin, a Democrat, was not available to comment.

McNiff declined to specify what possible outcomes of the current review could be. However, other officials said one possibility is that the state could deny access to all of Romney's records, including records released previously.

One state official, who asked for anonymity when discussing a politically sensitive issue, said at some point before he left office, Romney asked for official permission to destroy some of the records generated during his term as governor.

The official said that details of this request could only be made public in response to a freedom of information request. Reuters filed such a request Monday.

(Editing by David Lindsey and Cynthia Osterman)

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Comments (9)
IntoTheTardis wrote:
The GOP’s worst nightmare: consumer confidence was up in November. If this keeps up they could run St. Ronald as a candidate and Obama would still win.

Nov 29, 2011 11:06am EST  --  Report as abuse
doggydaddy wrote:
I was just talking to my sister telling her that the consumer confidence index is up which must have the Republicans freaking out and trying to come up with another way to sabotage the economy.

Do you remember Bill Bennett? I think he was Sec of Ed. under Reagan, or maybe Bush Sr. I remember him asking the question, where’s the outrage? when the House was impeaching Clinton. He didn’t understand why Americans, and particularly women, weren’t any more outraged than they appeared to be. What I don’t understand is why he’s not asking that same question now. Why aren’t Americans outraged about the Republican Party doing all they can to keep our economy down? Now that’s far more outrage provoking than a President having an affair. Amazingly, they’ll probably keep the majority in the House after the next election even though the House’s approval ratings is at an historical low.

Naturally, Bill Bennett, once the patron Saint of the Republican Party, was proven to be a hypocrite when he got in financial trouble due to his gambling addition. They’re always so hypocritical. They should call themselves the GOPH, the Grand Old Party of Hypocrites.

Of course I always wondered where the outrage was after Bush lied us into invading Iraq, a country that didn’t pose a threat to our national security. That was probably the most outrageous thing an American President has ever done and no one was held accountable. I mean really, what is a more aptly considered high crimes and misdemeanors, a President who lies about a consensual affair, or a President who lies to the nation in order to drag us into a war that cost over 100,000 people their lives and cost the American tax payer $2-$4 trillion? We are one f_cked up country.

Nov 29, 2011 1:33pm EST  --  Report as abuse
gobucks wrote:
If Romney gets the nomination it may signal a more moderate future for the Republican Party. The Democrats would much rather face Newt as his nomination will surrender a larger share of the independent voter to Obama. It will be interesting to see if the inflexible right leads the party off a cliff.

Nov 29, 2011 3:47pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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