Release of Docs Makes Freedom Foundation Wonder: Why Were They Hidden to Begin With?

New documents released by Gov. Jay Inslee are making some wonder why they were kept under wraps in the first place.

When the Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based think tank that promotes government transparency, was blocked by Gov. Christine Gregoire from accessing six documents in April 2010 under the guise of executive privilege they became curious. The Foundation says it soon found that Gregoire had evoked executive privilege roughly 500 times from January 2007 to April 2011.

Earlier this week Gov. Inslee fulfilled his campaign promise to release records requested by the public, including six documents the Freedom Foundation was previously barred from. While the Freedom Foundation - which filed a lawsuit seeking access to the documents - is glad a more transparent precedent has been set, now that the documents in question are open to public view representatives with the organization seem more confused than they were to begin with.

“We [had our attorneys] review it, and it looks like there’s nothing really controversial; we’re puzzled at why she wanted to hide them,” says Jessica Bowman, the policy outreach specialist at the Freedom Foundation. “We see it more as an exercise in self-importance.”

Gov. Gregoire’s office claimed executive privilege allowed her to withhold documents from public disclosure, but there aren’t any rule about that in either the state constitution or the Public Records Act that specifically give a governor that right. Although the Foundation lost the case in the Thurston County Superior Court, they argued their position in front of the Supreme Court of Washington in October 2012.

The court’s decision was due this spring, but they’re glad that Gov. Inslee has gone against his predecessor’s choices. Jonathan Bechtle, CEO of the Freedom Foundation said in a statement:

“I am pleased to see Governor Inslee keep his word and not invoke a privilege that does not exist. Due to support from people and media all over the state it’s clear we are showing the way forward toward a more transparent government.”

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