Last month, I reported that Mother Jones, several other media outlets, and a few citizen activists have been waiting for over two years for the state of Alaska to release emails Sarah Palin received and sent when she was governor. During the 2008 campaign, we each filed requests under Alaska’s open records law for these materials, but the governor’s office has repeatedly requested extensions from the state attorney general. And all the requests have been granted. But the work has proceeded. In the two years since the requests were filed, the governor’s office has located and/or recovered 26,553 pages of emails to and from Palin (including some to and from private email accounts she used for state business). The state, though, won’t release the material until all the records are reviewed by the state Department of Law. As of mid-December, that office had only evaluated 7,400 pages—less than one-third of the haul. The slow pace of review made it seem that the emails might not be made public until after the 2012 presidential election.
But late last year, state Attorney General David Sullivan demanded that the governor’s office submit a work plan that would state when the request would be finished, and now there’s a target date: May 31, 2011. On December 27, 2011, Linda Perez, the administrative director of the governor’s office, notified the current attorney general, John Burns, that the Department of Law estimates it will complete its review of the emails by March 31, 2011. (The department has beefed up its review team.) Perez added that her office would then need an additional two months to consult with the lawyers about what material to withhold or redact.
There is, of course, wiggle room in these estimates. Perez noted that the spring will be a particularly busy time, with the state legislature in session. So it would be no surprise if the governor’s office were to request an extension beyond May 31. But as the end of this process approaches, another question emerges: what will the state keep secret? Months before Palin was tapped by Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee, to be his running mate in 2008, her office declined to release 1,100 emails from two Palin aides in response to an open records request filed by citizen activist Andrée McLeod. The state claimed that these emails were exempt because they concerned confidential policy matters. Yet a list of the subject headings of the withheld emails referred to non-policy and political matters, suggesting that the state had taken a decidedly liberal interpretation of the available exemptions.
Might that happen again? First, we’ll have to see if the state meets the May 31 date.