In Tennessee, there’s a dialogue going on about whether it is desirable for communications between constituents and lawmakers to be subject to open records.
That is–if you shoot your state legislator a quick e-mail saying you like or dislike a particular piece of legislation, should those communications be subject to state FOIA?
George Korda argues this may have a chilling effect on the willingness of citizens to speak freely to their legislators. He writes:
“The idea that any communication between a county commissioner and one of his or her constituents is automatically public record should be absurd on its face.”
I think most of us would like the freedom to speak freely to our elected representates without the prospect that the whole world might find out what we’re saying to them. I get that.
On the other hand, would I want to know if a powerful corporation or union was sending communications to my lawmaker urging certain courses of action? Yes. I would. Knowing what type of material is being sent to and read by my lawmakers is part of my ability to understand the decisions they make and what kind of pressures they’re getting.
I don’t see how you can draw a line between the occasional e-mail from an unaffiliated individual to his or her lawmaker, and the communications the lawmaker gets from the Big Guys without opening an extremely large can of worms.