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The Fair Political Practices Commission v. the U.S. Postal Service

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Last week California's political watchdog agency apparently signaled that it is doing exactly what it should be: zealously investigating potential violations of the Political Reform Act (PRA). In an attempt to get information necessary to an ongoing investigation, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) filed suit in federal district court against the U.S. Postal Service.

The FPPC is endeavoring to determine whether former Manhattan Beach Unified school board member William Eisen violated the PRA by failing to disclose his participation as the sender in a mailing. The mailing urged recipients to vote against his recall in November 2008.

Call me crazy, but if I get a mailing asking me to vote against an official's recall I'd like to know that the official is behind the mailing. It would also be a useful tidbit of information to know that, if the allegations are true, that the official lied and said a taxpayer association and local political group were actually behind the mailers.

The Postal Service refused to provide the FPPC with the records it has requested, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as part of the investigation. The lawsuit contends that Eisen sent out a mass mailing using a bulk mail account. The records requested by the FPPC should confirm both whether the mailing can be considered to be a mass mailing and the identity of the sender of the mailing. If the mailing is a mass mailing then mandatory-source disclosures are triggered.

The Postal Service has refused to disclose the requested records, contending that they are privileged and/or confidential. The Postal Service has apparently disclosed comparable information in the past.

The result of the current suit could have serious consequences for future efforts by the FPPC to investigate and prosecute violations of the PRA. If the Postal Service can refuse to produce similar information in the future, then a number of enforcement actions could be permanently stalled. At a time when a cynic would call the idea of the public having faith in government a laughable one, it is nice to see one agency aggressively doing its job.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

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