The notoriously secretive Florida Governor Rick Scott pleasantly surprised journalists a couple months ago by announcing a project where anybody could access his emails. Turns out, he was only showing emails from an account mostly used by his conservative supporters, the Tampa Bay Times' Toluse Olorunnipa reports.
"Project Sunburst" was introduced in May to the praise of newspaper editorial boards in Florida. Anybody can go to the project's site and see correspondences of the executive staff. Usually, a reporter or citizen would have to file a Freedom of Information Act request to access emails, which is laborious and time-consuming. The alleged pledge of openness was a surprise for a governor who, when first in office, was immersed in a scandal about deleting emails that should have been public record.
But Olorunnipa noted, "an unrealistically high percentage of favorable emails" and asked the Scott administration about it. Scott reps admitted to two separate accounts, with "RLS@eog.myflorida.com" being the one in Sunburst, an email listed on many Tea Party sites. The result: Public opinion for Scott seemed much more positive. Take, for example, the controversial voter verification law, where voters must provide ID. Many emails of support ("Please make maintaining accurate voter rolls as a major priority! Stand up to the corrupt Obama administration") showed through while people against the law stayed out of Sunburst when they sent to Scott's official account. The Scott administration said they'd phase out the Tea Party email and would add emails from the official one, firstname.lastname@example.org, this week.
Scott is known for trying to keep things under wraps. Earlier this month, the Palm Peach Post reported that Scott had covered up or ignored the biggest tuberculosis outbreak the CDC had seen in 20 years. Of course, even with all the emails on immediate display, it still feels a bit like a facade of transparency. Officials can still request to have meetings in-person or by phone, like Scott's chief of staff Steve MacNamara, and Facebook and Twitter messages are also off limits on Sunburst. Immediate access is a nice thought, but this all goes to show, if Rick Scott wants to hide something, he'll figure out a way.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.