Q&A: Records from political party


From the The Republic (Columbus):

Q: We had a recent situation where a city council member stepped down and the party called a caucus of precinct committee members to appoint a new council member. The Republican Party chairwoman took the position that under state law she did not have to release a list of the precinct committee members she has appointed to fill vacant positions.

According to the party, the names of those who ran for the positions and won in an election are public, but appointed positions are not. Participants and non-participants are alleging the appointees are all friends, relatives and neighbors of the chairwoman, and many do not live in the city. It appears that more than 50 of our 66 precincts have appointed rather than elected committee members.

Do you know of any legitimate reason why the party doesn’t have to release the full list?

A: Generally, a political party is not subject to the state’s public access laws because it is not a government unit.

Unless the county chairwoman is required to document her appointments with a local or state agency (and I’m not aware of any such requirement), then the appointments are not required to be made public.

Names on the election ballot are, of course, public records.

Keep in mind that the position of the Indiana public access counselor’s office has been that political caucuses called to fill a vacancy of an elected official, such as a city council member, are required to be open to the public after 48 hours notice.

This is because the caucus is serving a governmental function in filling the vacancy.

So a reporter can attend the caucus and see who’s present and has voting privileges in the caucus.

Also, while the county chairwoman may not be required to reveal her appointed precinct committee members, there isn’t any reason why she can’t make the list available to give county residents comfort with the fairness of the process.

In other words, why won’t she release the names to dispel the notion that outsiders are making the decision on who represents the council district or that the chairwoman stacked the deck?

If voters aren’t comfortable with her actions, they might express their view by ousting the caucus-appointed council member at the next election, so it’s in her best interests to be transparent.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.