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August 21st, 2013 SARA SNEATH | News Stories
 

Salem Spamalot

A political group races against a deadline to get your email address before it’s too late.

news3_tugowar_3942ILLUSTRATION: WW Staff
You may not have heard of the Oregon Capitol Watch Foundation, a self-described state budget watchdog group.

But if you’ve sent or received email to or from a state agency, you may soon be on the group’s mailing list.

The foundation is in a race to use Oregon’s public records law to obtain addresses kept in state agencies’ email directories—giving the group essentially an instant mailing list to target potential supporters.

Jeff Kropf, executive director of Oregon Capitol Watch Foundation, says the timing is no coincidence: His group wants to get the email addresses before a new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2014, shutting down access to them. His group is targeting agencies that issue permits and licences.

“We’ll do whatever we can to obtain those email addresses and communicate with Oregonians,” Kropf says. “We’re afforded this opportunity. Anyone is, as it stands.”

The Oregon Legislature passed a bill in June to stop access to agencies’ email directories after Rep. Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point) filed similar requests to build a massive mailing list.

Richardson drew complaints about his methods and tactics. A 2012 Associated Press story reported Richardson crashed the state’s Web server by sending his newsletter and large email attachments to nearly 500,000 recipients.

Richardson, who’s running for governor in 2014, is unapologetic. He says getting the email addresses helped him communicate better with Oregonians.

But he notes lawmakers put a Jan. 1 deadline in place instead of having the new law go into effect right away.

“By doing so, they welcomed anyone who wanted to make use of the law to do so before it became effective,” he says.

Rep. Phil Barnhart (D-Eugene), who sponsored the bill, says email addresses collected by state agencies should be exempt from public disclosure.

“The point of this bill is to prevent the wholesale request of emails for no reason  at all,” Barnhart says, “other than you’d like to have them, thank you very much.” 

Barnhart says disclosing citizens’ email addresses could discourage them from communicating with state agencies.

But it’s exactly those people Oregon Capitol Watch wants to reach.

The group also gives out a “Porker Award” to public officials or agencies it says have demonstrated “waste, fraud and or abuse with your tax dollars.” When delivering the award, Kropf brings along a giant spray-foam pig, named Petunia the Pork Detective, on a trailer.

“Petunia is a celebrity except in the minds of those who get the award,” Kropf says.

Past recipients of the award include the Oregon Health Authority (for its study of whether flickering shadows from wind-turbine blades could trigger epileptic seizures) and the city of Corvallis (for what the group says was misuse of an Environmental Protection Agency grant).

Kropf says people who have contacted state agencies might be receptive to the group’s message.

“They are Oregon taxpayers, typically,” Kropf says. “And they would probably be interested in the examples we have found in how the state spends their money.” 

 
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