By Lambert Strether of Corrente
Yes, you read that right. Granted, only one committee (
so far and let’s make sure it stays that way). Alert reader Lance N threw the following link over the transom:
A Mississippi legislative committee voted Tuesday to adopt a new policy that makes all government contracts confidential.
The new law was created in response to a public record request from a local newspaper.
According to Mississippi Today, it filed the request to get information on a contract between the state and the nonprofit EdBuild, which is tasked with reviewing and potentially rewriting Mississippi’s Adequate Education Program. … Instead the committee adopted the new policy, making all contracts private.
The rule reads, ““
Seems legit. As a sidebar, I’d like to note that the Committee’s new policy shows a pleasing characteristic of Republicans generally: They have the courage of their convictions. California Democrats only exempted Covered California exchange spending and contractors from their open records law, but Mississippi Republicans didn’t pussyfoot around: They exempted “All contracts”!
Mississippi Today, who requested the contract, gives more detail:
The state entered in to a $250,000 contract with the New Jersey-based nonprofit EdBuild in October. EdBuild is charged with reviewing and potentially rewriting the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the formula that dictates how much state money public schools get each year.
The public will be given its first chance to offer public comment on the funding formula at a one-hour session at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Capitol. All comments will be limited to three minutes.
Mississippi Today submitted a public records request for the contract to the House of Representatives on Oct. 12. House Clerk Andrew Ketchings told Mississippi Today the committee would have to vote whether to release the contract at its meeting.
But at Tuesday’s meeting, the committee was presented with and adopted the new policy.
Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, the chair of the committee, said the new policy would increase transparency by giving members of the House a way to review contracts.
Seems legit. Better yet:
A request to EdBuild for the contract was also not granted. A representative from the group said they had been asked to “refer these requests to the appropriate committees.”
In fact, even legislators aren’t being allowed to see the contract!
Rep. Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, told The Clarion-Ledger that he had attempted twice to read the agreement to no avail prior to the new policy. With its passage, he said he intends to try again.
No red flags there! Now, if I were a citizen planning to attend that session for public comment, I’d be mighty ticked off. Sometimes the people sitting with the nameplates in front of them actually pay attention, which is good, but public comment sessions also serve for activists to exchange information with each other, and even more to display their expertise to the attendant press, so that they become sources. But you can’t prepare for the session without basic information, and the contract is basic information. How can you comment on a proposal to spend state money when you don’t know what the deliverables are, or how contractor performance is to be evaluated?
Moreover, secret contracts are an open invitation to corruption. How do we know a clause in the contract doesn’t make a legislator’s family member a contractor? Or deliver business to cronies? We don’t, of course. And the presence of Rebecca Sibilia, EdBuild CEO and known associate of charter crook Michelle Rhee, is yet another red flag. (Walton and Gates-funded EdBuild is not the focus of this post, but when I was doing a lot more reviewing of state and local news, every time a charter story came up, I never knew whether to throw it in the Charter bucket, or the Corruption Bucket).
And it’s not like Mississippi doens’t have problems with corruption. From “Local Overweighting and Underperformance: Evidence from Limited Partner Private Equity Investments,” by Yael V. Hochberg Joshua D. Rauh (on the Chicago Fed’s site):
State-level corruption measures are obtained from Glaeser and Saks (2006). Glaeser and Saks (2006) derive corruption levels from the Justice Department’s “Report to Congress on the Activities and Operations of the Public Integrity Section,” which lists the number of federal, state and local public officials convicted of a corruption-related crime by state. They divide these convictions by average state population from the 1999 and 2000 Census to obtain an estimate of the state corruption rate per capita. , Louisiana and South Dakota.
Bringing me to private equity. Suppose that the Mississippi State Legislature was able to keep secret any private equity contracts under its purview. That could make the work Yves did to expose limited partnership agreements in California difficult or impossible in Mississippi (see, for example, here, here, and here). No doubt that’s why the subject line in Lance’s email was: “The Nuclear Option for your CALPERS investigations.”
I’m not sure if there’s a good way for Naked Capitalism to bring pressure to bear on state legislators directly from random out-of-staters; I know that would not work in Maine; we’re touchy. For those in state, this story from Mississipipi gives the names of the legislators involved. And of course, if you have family or friends in Mississippi, let them know and encourage them to tell their legislators that they are firmly opposed.
My thought is that readers might wish to support Mississippi Today, who broke the story. You might send them email, or snail mail, at their contact page; your thoughts could then become the basis for a follow-on story, bringing pressure to bear in that way. Perhaps readers who are investors could craft verbiage in comments explaining how difficult it would be to invest in Mississippi’s ventures or financial vehicles, given the potential for corruption. Here is Mississippi Today’s contact information:
750 Woodlands Parkway, Suite 100
Ridgeland, MS 39157
For questions or more information, contact Melissa Hederman at 601.613.4003 or firstname.lastname@example.org