Wyoming’s new State Auditor Kristi Racines has produced six-years of state checkbook expenditures to OpenTheBooks.com and Equality State Taxpayers Association. The production included all public state spending transactions, along with the requested vendor file. This production fully satisfied the open records request that was the subject of litigation between the groups and the previous auditor.
Furthermore, Auditor Racines refunded the $7,820 fee previously paid by OpenTheBooks.com and the Equality State Taxpayers Association. The auditor stated it took her office less than $180 in cost to produce the records, and therefore, there was no charge.
Auditor Racines did in days what the previous auditor would not do in five years. OpenTheBooks.com had requested the state checkbook since 2015.
Adam Andrzejewski, the CEO & Founder of OpenTheBooks.com said that the election of Krisi Racines ushered in a new era in state government: "Auditor Racines embraced the transparency revolution in the digital age. Racines was very responsive and, now, for the first time in history, the books of state government are open." Andrzejewski continued, "It is a new day in Wyoming. The culture of secrecy regarding state spending is over. There is a marked difference between the Racines administration and what transpired in past administrations."
Kevin Lewis, Vice President of the Equality State Taxpayers Association stated as follows: "We have all grown jaded and cynical about government. Kristi Racines is a blast of fresh air. What Auditor Racines has done shows that there are honorable elected officials. At the top of that list of elected officials who should be praised for their work is Krisi Racines."
To place the matter in context, the following background facts are provided to members of the press:
1. On July 18, 2018, American Transparency, known as "OpenTheBooks.com" and Equality State Taxpayers Association filed a complaint against then State Auditor Cynthia Cloud.
2. OpenTheBooks.com is a nationally recognized non-profit dedicated to government transparency and accountability. It is the largest private data base of government spending in the world and is comprised of over five billion lines of government expenditures. Its CEO & Founder is Adam Andrzejewski, and their Honorary Chairman is Dr. Tom Coburn, former U.S. Senator (OK).
3. Equality State Taxpayers Association is a non-profit association of Wyoming taxpayers dedicated to protecting Wyoming taxpayers and working to ensure openness and accountability in government.
4. In 2015, OpenTheBooks.com made a request under the Wyoming Public Records Act for the State "checkbook" – the line-by-line transactions of where the state spent taxpayer money. The same request was made in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
5. The data sought had been previously published on the State Auditor’s vendor payment’s website for at least 90-days. These spending transactions had already been made public.
6. From 2015 to 2018, Cynthia Cloud denied the Public Records Act requests for this information on the basis that the requests would impose an undue burden on her office.
7. With Cloud’s denial of the information, Wyoming was one of only three states in the nation not to produce its checkbook.
8. In 2017, Cynthia Cloud’s office stated that the information previously published on her website had been "purged." Early in 2018, in negotiations leading up to the filing of the lawsuit, OpenTheBooks.com and the Equality State Taxpayers Association learned that the data had not been purged, and that what they had been told previously was untrue.
9. In a letter dated January 30, 2018, Auditor Cloud’s office reversed her position, and admitted that the data could be produced.
10. Cloud’s office, however, levied an unjust and unauthorized fee for the data. Cloud’s office demanded that American Transparency and Equality State Taxpayers Association pay $7,820 for the gathering of the data. Cloud maintained that this public data, previously published for three months on the Auditor’s website, was required to be reviewed again for confidentiality purposes. OpenTheBooks.com and Equality State Taxpayers Association pointed out that this made no sense: the data had already been published, and therefore, a charge for additional confidentiality review was inappropriate.
11. OpenTheBooks.com and Equality State Taxpayers Association paid the $7,820 to Cloud’s office.
12. However, after receiving this large payment, Auditor Cloud slow-walked the production of the records. At the pace Auditor Cloud addressed the request, by our rough calculation, the request would have taken 25 years to fulfill. Cloud would make no commitment as to how long it would take her office to fulfill the request.
13. In June, 2018 OpenTheBooks.com and Equality State Taxpayers Association notified the Auditor that production of data was so slow that they would have to take her to court to enforce the Public Records Act. Cloud did not respond.
14. In July, 2018, OpenTheBooks.com and Equality State Taxpayers Association sued Auditor Cloud to force her to comply with open records law.
15. A hearing on the dispute was scheduled for November 6, 2018. At the time of the hearing, only 1.5 years of data had been produced. The lawyer representing Cloud stated that a temporary employee had now taken over the task of producing the data.
16. On January 18, 2019, newly inaugurated Auditor Racines met with the Finance Transparency Panel. OpenTheBooks.com and Equality State Taxpayers Association asked her to produce the data within 30 days.
17. On February 15, 2019 Auditor Racines produced the checkbook data with addresses from the WOLFS (Wyoming On Line Financial System) database. She provided 2013, 2104, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 Checkbook data in both excel and PDF formats. Additionally, she refunded the $7,820 paid by American Transparency (OpenTheBooks.com) and the Equality State Taxpayers Association, citing the cost of production to be less than $180—as contrasted to the $7,820 that Cynthia Cloud had charged.
In Our Opinion
In summary, Wyoming citizens should be aware of the complete reversal of policy by Auditor Racines and the contrast between two administrations based upon our opinion of what has transpired:
• Where Cynthia Cloud had denied requests and stonewalled for five years, Auditor Racines embraced the records request and immediately responded.
• Where Cynthia Cloud, in our opinion, showed that, to her, the requests were not a priority and asserted that the requests imposed an undue burden on her office, Auditor Racines showed respect to taxpayers and proved that the request was not burdensome. It was always a matter of priority: to Auditor Racines the rights of Wyoming citizens are valued.
• Where Cynthia Cloud misrepresented the availability of the data (even deflecting the requests by stating that the data had been "purged"), Auditor Racines has dealt with those requesting the data in an honest and straight-forward manner.
• Where Cynthia Cloud repeatedly said in public that more money (in addition to the $63 million in already spent financial software) would be required to be able to assure the confidentiality of information, Auditor Racines went to work, spent no time creating excuses why data could not be produced, and has shown that existing resources could properly and promptly fulfill the request.
• By the time we filed suit, by rough calculations, Cynthia Cloud was on track to spend a decade or more in production of the data. Auditor Racines did it in five weeks.
• Where Cynthia Cloud professed a commitment to transparency, in our opinion, her actions belied her claims. In our opinion, Cynthia Cloud talked the talk but did not walk the walk. Auditor Racines walks the walk. The actions of Auditor Racines demonstrate that she believes in transparency and will follow through, in a highly efficient way, on her commitment to transparency. Auditor Racines has set the tone and may be on her way to create a new culture of responsiveness in Wyoming. That is leadership.
• Where Cynthia Cloud sought, in our opinion, to unfairly impose costs as a wall to records requests (making records requests so expensive that public records will not be requested), Auditor Racines would have none of that. She has embraced the public’s right to records. From her actions thus far, the policy of Auditor Racines is one of openness and non-obstruction. She is interested in fair and honest treatment of those who make records requests.