LITTLE ROCK — A lawsuit arguing that Gov. Mike Beebe violated the state Freedom of Information law is merely a political attack, the governor said Tuesday.
“That’s all political,” Beebe told reporters when asked about the lawsuit filed Monday by Megan Tollett, executive director of the state Republican Party.
The lawsuit alleges that Beebe violated the FOI law by denying a request for documents his office has received from individuals seeking appointments to state boards or commissions.
Tollett said Monday in a statement released through her lawyer that she was trying to obtain information about an apparent connection between Beebe’s staff and the fundraising efforts of two Democratic candidates. Mica Strother, Beebe’s appointment director, is also a part-time fundraising consultant for U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor’s re-election campaign and former Congressman Mike Ross’ gubernatorial campaign.
“This is the Republican Party trying to, I guess, attack Ross or attack Mica or attack me or attack something,” Beebe said to reporters before giving a talk at the Arkansas National Guard Professional Education Center’s State Employee Appreciation Luncheon at the Clinton library.
State Republican Party spokeswoman Holly Wilson said Tuesday that the party is not attacking anyone with the lawsuit.
“We are on a fact-finding mission to make sure business is being conducted in an open and public manner, and if everything is above board, as stated by the governor’s office, then why not just release the information that we have requested?” she said.
The governor’s office maintains that the requested documents are unpublished memoranda, working papers and correspondence and are exempt from the FOI law.
“That’s part of the governor’s working papers,” Beebe said Tuesday. “All governors have considered correspondence into and out of (the governor’s office) part of the working papers and correspondence.”
He also said the Republican Party does not need an FOI request to obtain information about appointments.
“They’ve got everybody who’s been appointed. It becomes a matter of public record. In fact, we issue public releases on that,” he said
Beebe said no improper connection has existed between candidates’ fundraising and the appointment process. He said Strother supervises the staff that takes applications for appointments and does background checks of prospective appointees, but he said he makes the decisions on appointments — without knowledge of who may or may not have contributed to campaigns.
“I have never asked that question, nor would I ever ask that question,” Beebe said.
The governor also said he did not believe anyone in his office ever shared information about prospective appointees with political candidates.
“I don’t think any information is shared until an appointment is made, and then it’s a matter of public record for the whole world to see,” he said.
Beebe has made more than 4,700 appointments since taking office in 2007, according to a spokesman.