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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Ex-Politician’s Mail Data Faces Post Office Reveal

SACRAMENTO (CN) - The U.S. Postal Service must tell the California Fair Political Practices Commission how much mail a "recalled California elected official" sent under one permit, a federal judge ruled.

As the state agency responsible for "the impartial, effective administration and implementation" of California's Political Reform Act, the Fair Political Practices Commission sought to investigate a possible violation of the act's disclosure requirements.

The commission intended to investigate a complaint about mass mailings from a recalled official in which the individual allegedly mailed more than 200 "substantially similar" pieces of mail "in connection with a local California campaign" in 2008, according to the court.

Citing an exemption under the Political Reform Act, the U.S. Postal Service responded by sending the commission statements with everything redacted except for the permit holder's name.

U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell Jr. found little support for the U.S. Postal Service's argument that the numerical data qualified as commercial information.

"The USPS has not shown that the requested information is within the realm of what is considered to be commercial information," Burrell wrote, granting summary judgment to the commission. "Nor has it shown how the disclosure of the requested numerical information could potentially impair the relationship between the USPS and its customers. Further, the USPS has not shown that the mail quantities at issue are its proprietary information merely because this information is recorded in USPS Form 3602."

Burrell found that California "Government Code Section 83118 provides the FPPC with the power to subpoena any records ... material to the performance of FPPC's duties," which include enforcing disclosure requirements for political mass mailings.

In response to the agency's Freedom of Information Act complaint, the U.S. Postal Service asserted that the quantity of mail sent is exempt from disclosure under the Political Reform Act because the statute does not require disclosure of "information of a commercial nature ... which under good business practice would not be publicly disclosed."

The U.S. Postal Service further argued that disclosure of the number of pieces of mail sent by a customer could potentially "impair the relationship between USPS and its customers, and could cause such users to use the delivery services of the USPS' competitors who are not subject to FOIA requirements."

In a cross-motion for summary judgment, the commission disputed this theory. "It strains credibility to suggest that 'the number of pieces of mail sent ... relates to commerce, trade, or profit, such that it is proprietary to the Postal Service," the agency said.

Burrell agreed, and ordered the U.S. Postal Service to disclose to the commission the number of pieces of mail sent on Oct. 9, 10 and 22, 2008, using Permit No. 2058 within 15 days.

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