Incorruptible Mass

Transparency -- MA is unique in being the only state where all 3 branches of govt are exempt from public records law.

September 02, 2023 Anna Callahan Season 5 Episode 24
Transparency -- MA is unique in being the only state where all 3 branches of govt are exempt from public records law.
Incorruptible Mass
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Incorruptible Mass
Transparency -- MA is unique in being the only state where all 3 branches of govt are exempt from public records law.
Sep 02, 2023 Season 5 Episode 24
Anna Callahan

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Today we talk about transparency. Massachusetts is the only state where all three branches of government are exempt from public records law. Andrew Quemere, host of The Mass Dump and Lights Out Mass, joins us to talk specifically about the governor's track record on this issue, as well as ongoing law suits in MA about transparency.

Jordan Berg Powers, Jonathan Cohn, and Anna Callahan chat about Massachusetts politics. This is the audio version of the Incorruptible Mass podcast, season 5 episode 24. You can watch the video version on our YouTube channel.

You’re listening to Incorruptible Mass. Our goal is to help people transform state politics: we investigate why it’s so broken, imagine what we could have here in MA if we fixed it, and report on how you can get involved.

The Mass Dump newsletter
Lights Out Mass podcast

To stay informed:
* Subscribe to our YouTube channel
* Subscribe to the podcast (
* Sign up to get updates at
* Donate to the show at

Show Notes Transcript

Please donate to the show!

Today we talk about transparency. Massachusetts is the only state where all three branches of government are exempt from public records law. Andrew Quemere, host of The Mass Dump and Lights Out Mass, joins us to talk specifically about the governor's track record on this issue, as well as ongoing law suits in MA about transparency.

Jordan Berg Powers, Jonathan Cohn, and Anna Callahan chat about Massachusetts politics. This is the audio version of the Incorruptible Mass podcast, season 5 episode 24. You can watch the video version on our YouTube channel.

You’re listening to Incorruptible Mass. Our goal is to help people transform state politics: we investigate why it’s so broken, imagine what we could have here in MA if we fixed it, and report on how you can get involved.

The Mass Dump newsletter
Lights Out Mass podcast

To stay informed:
* Subscribe to our YouTube channel
* Subscribe to the podcast (
* Sign up to get updates at
* Donate to the show at

Hello and welcome to Incorruptible Mass. On this podcast, we are here to help us all transform state politics. We know that we could together have state policy reflect the needs of the vast majority of the residents of our beautiful state.

And today we are going to be talking about transparency broadly, but we will have an incredible guest, Andrew Quemere, who will be talking about the Mass Dump newsletter and Lights Out Mass podcast, where they delve into a lot of the issues we talk about as well, which is why our state government is exempt from public records law. We'll be talking a little bit about the commission that they created on their exemption from public records law, which is quite amusing. We will talk a little bit about the ongoing lawsuits around this issue that are going on, as well as also some of the platforms and tools that we're all using here as podcasters, newsletter putter outers and all that.

But before we get to our amazing guest, let me introduce my two fantabulous co hosts. I will start with Jonathan. 

Sorry, just unmuted myself. Jonathan Cohn. He him his joining from Boston and have been active on different electoral campaigns in Massachusetts for like about a decade. Wonderful.

And Jordan. Jordan Berg Powers. He him. I'm coming from Worcester, Massachusetts. And yeah, it is weird to live in a state where it's so hard to find basic information about our own governments. 

And I am Anna Callahan. She her coming at you from Medford. Love politics, local, deeply important to me. State politics, wow. So mind blowing here in Massachusetts and love being on this podcast with you guys every week and with all you listeners.

And now the moment you have all been waiting for. I would love to introduce Andrew Quemere. And if you want to go ahead and introduce yourself and then introduce your newsletter and podcast and what the purpose of those is.

Sure, yeah. Thanks for having me guys. And so I write the Mass Dump newsletter.

I am very focused on public records, which is probably one of the most important pieces of transparency. Public records law is basically a way to not just take people at their word in government, but to find out what's actually going on. It allows you to request records, which could be emails or written documents.

It could also be videos, photographs, audio recordings. Pretty much any form of documentation could be a record. And this is basically how I do a lot of the investigative journalism I do.

I'm primarily focused on police and the justice system. But I'm also just very interested in the public records law itself and sort of transparency in government as a value separate from any particular issue. Just as I guess what I would say is transparency is important because you can't affect government if you don't actually know what's going on.

If people are meeting behind closed doors and making decisions and we don't know who they are, what their motives are, what's going on, then you can't really have any say. And I just think that having strong public records law is very important for that. But unfortunately, there are a lot of problems with the public records law in Massachusetts, which I write about all the time.

And I think the topic we wanted to get into first is just to give myself a little shout out. We did a whole podcast about this that was released last week on my Lights Out Mass podcast that I host with Jeff Raymond. We did a whole episode about the governor, Maura Healey, and her approach to public records.

Yeah, we are going to get right into that. Before we do, I am just going to go ahead. I know we have talked about transparency and all of this on our podcast before, but I'm just going to give each of us a moment to chime in and just give our statement as to why it matters.

I'm going to say mine, which is the ancient Greeks knew that you can only have democracy with an informed public. That is basic. If public is not informed about what the heck is happening, democracy breaks down.

So anybody who's concerned about the breakdown of our democracy should be deeply, deeply concerned about the complete lack of transparency that we have in the Massachusetts state government. That's mine. Jordan you want to I mean, I'll just say really quickly when I say it's bewildering how the state is, that this is a state that thinks of itself as a leader in democracy.

And in a lot of ways, as we've highlighted on this podcast, we are far behind where we should be. And the one that is so glaring is how much contempt they have for us to know and be a part of the process of them. Legislating.

So really, for me, it's like when you say that things should just be behind closed doors and you should just trust us and all these things, you're basically saying that us, the public, the people who are supposed to have oversight, democratic oversight over the things you're doing, can't be trusted, shouldn't be a part of the process. And if doing so would somehow hurt the process, then what you're doing is hurting us. But I think the other pieces, too, I think the other reason it's really important is that the places that are most opposed to public records are often the places that do the worst things to the public, right? They are the places those are, in fact, the places that need the most oversight.

So when you see a government who's willing to share what they're doing, that's probably because they're not worried about sharing what they're doing. And they're fine. They're like, yeah, have at it, we're doing great.

We're here in terms of the public. And you see with the police, with our state legislature, with other government agencies that push back, that try to put roadblocks up, that put fines in place to try to get the basics of what are you doing? Who are you talking to? What are you saying to each other? Often it's for a reason that they're putting up those roadblocks. Jonathan, this reminds me of I was talking to somebody the other day how I kind of view there to be a certain kind of typology of political lying that you have the one type of political lying that we kind of know as spin where it's bending the truth as far as you can bend the truth while still giving yourself the ability to say that you're not outright lying because you've maintained the thinnest of Tether.

There's a political lying that comes from an imbalance of information that you think that you might think that a politician is lying, and they are, but you can't prove it because they have access to information that they can represent how they choose to, and you don't have access to that. And there's the political lying that is like lying in direct contradiction to basically easily accessible information. The last category is something I often use when talking about Donald Trump, who likes there is direct, easily accessible information.

You're lying, you're counteracting that. But that second category and also to some extent the first are public records play a really important role because you don't have the ability to assess the veracity of many statements that politicians make. Particularly if you have an imbalance of information that often, if they speak about statistics, if they speak about things that they've been doing, you, as just a regular person, don't have access to the information.

And you don't know if they're representing the information that they have properly or if they're, let's say, just making stuff up or just heavily massaging the information to make their point. And so having the ability to get that information is critical. I often think of the value of public records, like public records and government transparency.

Whenever you read a story, if you ever get the question of, I bet there's more behind this, because there are only so many words in any news article that you'll read, and then you can immediately start thinking there are probably conversations behind this that aren't falling within the parameter of this story. Or I have so many questions about what's going on here that aren't being answered. That's where having the ability to discover what actually is behind the story is so critical.

It's so critical. Yeah. Andrew, talk to us about the governor's office. I think everyone, to all the people listening to this podcast, we're pretty excited to get a Republican governor out, get a Democratic governor in, tell us what's going on. 

Well, so I guess just real quick for background, there are exemptions to the public records law. So there's things like privacy. There's something called the deliberative process exemption, which is like when there are policy making discussions that are ongoing, certain records you keep from the public until the discussion is over. There's a similar thing for law enforcement investigations. There's all sorts of exemptions.

But for the governor's office and also for the legislature and the courts, there's a total, complete exemption. So technically, if you send them a public records request, they could literally just ignore it and there's nothing you could do. They don't even have to send you a courtesy letter saying, hey, we're not even responsible for this.

They could just completely ignore you if they wanted to. And that is something that is actually unique about Massachusetts. Massachusetts is one of only two states, along with Michigan, according to reporting from the Boston Globe, that the governor's office specifically is exempt.

So that puts us as an outlier right there. But then on top of it, Massachusetts is the only state in the entire country where all three of the branches of state government, the governor, legislature and the courts are totally exempt from the public records. Now, if I can jump in quick, it's fairly common that the legislature is exempt and there's plenty of reasons why.

Right. We're talking about the court system. It's the legislature that is unusual.

Yeah, but so this is a huge problem because as we've been talking about, public records are important. You want to know not just well, I mean, I guess if we want to talk about the legislature, we don't even know how a lot of the votes are. I think that might be something we come back to.

But for the governor specifically, I mean, this is the most powerful person, single person in state government. They can line item veto stuff in the state budget, they can do this or that. They have the ability to declare emergencies and do all these executive things unilaterally.

They have tremendous power, tremendous influence in terms of the agenda for state government. And it just doesn't make sense that, say, the mayor of Boston or the mayor of Framingham, a much smaller city where I live, is responsible for responding to these public records requests. But then someone who has even more power and is in control of things that affect the entire state doesn't have to follow that same standard that we expect of not just cities, but towns.

Towns with like a couple of hundred people might have to follow this law. So why wouldn't the governor have to follow? It just doesn't make sense. And the only explanation is just that people in state government don't want sunlight on what they're doing.

And whether those are always nefarious or not, it doesn't really matter. It's just what matters is the principle of the thing, which is that in a democratic society, it's supposed to be an open society and government should take place to the maximum know possible out in the open. And people should have the ability to see what's going on and to affect policy.

So I just think that that's just to jump back to something. Jonathan was like, when you read the news all the time, you're like, hey, I have a question about this story. It leaves something out, and one way you can answer those questions.

I mean, this is literally a strategy I have for figuring out what kind of records request to send is. I'll read something in the news, and I'll be like, well, hold on, there's a gap in this story. I think I'll send in a records request to try to see if I can turn up some of that information, but you just don't have the ability to do that with the governor's office.

So what this goes back to is a 1997 case called Lambert, where this attorney sued the governor's office, the Weld administration at the time, and said that she wanted this questionnaire that I think a judge. I don't remember if it was someone who had been confirmed or not, but someone who is an applicant to be a judge had filled out. She wanted to see how this person answered these questions, and the governor's office denied her.

And then the Supreme Judicial Court said that the governor's office is not explicitly included in the public records law, and therefore the governor is totally exempt. And so this is what, about 25 years ago, this case came down, and since then, you've had Democrats and Republicans alike both claiming this Lambert exemption to the public records. You know, we had an interesting time during the election because Maura Healey well, actually, not just her, but I think almost all, if not all of the candidates for governor asked this question basically, do you support changing it? And Maura Healey was, you know, said that she supported changing it to make the governor's office under public records law. Right. And on top of it, about two weeks before– after she's elected, so she doesn't have to put on a front anymore.

But about two weeks before she was inaugurated, she said she was asked by Jim Browardy, the host of the GBH program, Boston Public Radio, basically, will you voluntarily agree to not claim that you're completely exempt from the public records law? So will you follow the law as though you were the mayor of Boston or the mayor of Framingham? Will you only claim limited exemptions, like privacy, et cetera, and not claim this total exemption? And she literally just said to this question, yes. Jim Browdy, you know, you can listen to the clip. He was just like, okay, well, that takes care of that. And she didn't elaborate on it.

But then now first month in office, she puts out this policy, and it's right online, and it just completely contradicts what she said. It says, the governor's office is exempt under Lambert, and it goes on, and it says, we will voluntarily respond to public records requests. So you could say, oh, well, if they're going to voluntarily respond.

Maybe she's still keeping her word. She's just putting this Lambert thing in because it's the law. But then you keep reading and it says, we'll evaluate your request based not just on the exemptions of the public records law, but the unique obligations of the governor's office, which is not something that's in the law, it's just something that they made up.

And it's just another way of saying that we're totally we're not going to release stuff if we don't want to. And I should just be clear that Maura Haley has gone out and said, well, I'm being more transparent because I've released my calendar with a massive amount of redactions to it, but past governors released stuff voluntarily too. So this is like basically she's playing a word game where she's saying, I've released my calendar, so I'm not claiming I'm totally exempt, but going back to what Jon was saying about sort of lying, but trying to stay know, trying to have some plausible mean, to me, this is just an outright lie because she knows better.

But what she's trying to do is she's trying to basically put something out that's going to confuse someone who doesn't really understand this issue with any nuance. Because the idea of the public Records law is if the public Records law applies to you, you don't get to pick and choose when it applies to you. You only get to say, okay, there's a privacy exemption, there's a law enforcement investigation exemption, there's this exemption.

I can claim those if they're relevant, but I can't just say, well, my office is unique, it's special, and if I don't want to give you some emails, which is something that I would normally have to give up, I can just say I don't have to. And it's not just her policy. Just to be clear, this is how she has approached actual records requests.

Like, I have asked for emails from the Baker administration and she said, oh, well, my policy only applies to the not to. It's not retroactive. And that's not something where, like, Michelle Wu in Boston could say, I don't want to give up Marty Walsh's emails because I wasn't there at the time.

She couldn't do that. And you might say, okay, well, maybe it's reasonable, just know it wasn't the law at the time. But she's also rejected requests for her own emails with the same sort of blanket justification.

Like the Boston Globe asked for emails with the leaders of the state legislature who remember are also exempt, so you can't go to them and get these emails. You could only go to Maura Healey because she claimed that she was going to voluntarily follow this law. But then they rejected the Boston Globes request too, and they just said that it would interfere with the governor's responsibilities, which is like, like it'd be one thing, I guess, if they said, okay, we have the deliberative process exemption that I mentioned, and I don't want to release stuff that is part of an ongoing policy negotiation.

But if you send me a request once we've concluded all this business, maybe I'll see what I can release then. But that's not what they said. They just said, we've got this Lambert exemption.

It interferes with my responsibilities. I'm just not going to do it. And so you just have to keep in mind, when you're looking at state government, you get quotes from press releases or speeches or interviews on the radio, but the reporters, they don't have any ability to sort of dig in and examine what's really going on behind the scenes.

So you're only getting half the picture, and you're getting the half that they want you to see. And you've got to wonder if there's a second half that they don't want us to see. What's in there, why won't they want us to see it? Because, again, maybe it isn't always nefarious.

Sometimes it isn't, but if they don't want you to see it, there must be something juicy in there. I always think that it's also notable that the straight two second answer, yes, that's like WBUR, where there's thousands of listeners and that's what people assume, that, okay, that's the answer. And then these press releases or whatever other things that come out that have all the gibberish and whatever things and the actual requests, which you will never hear about, that get denied, those things are super–

Like another sorry, I just want to give, like, one more example, which is that in another interview with Boston Public Radio, Healey had said specifically that she wasn't going to hide the ball on the MBTA. And then earlier this month, there was a story in Streets blog Mass, which is like a transportation focused news site. They had asked for this thing about the MBTA called the Capital Needs Assessment.

And I'm sure everybody who listens to you guys or just lives in Massachusetts knows that the MBTA is like a horror show. And what this Capital Needs Assessment was basically it's just like a report that tallies up all the repair costs that they need from the MBTA. And the MBTA tried to charge them over $2,000.

So they're like, okay, let's go to the Healey administration because they must have a copy. So they asked for I think it was like, emails that was mentioning this, and I assume they probably were hoping there'd be, like, an email attachment with a copy of the report or something. But they just again denied this request.

Blanket they did cite, like, attorney client privilege and deliberative process and stuff, but they did say specifically that the unique obligations of the governor's office prevented them from releasing this material. So you go from saying in public, I'm not going to hide the ball on the MBTA, to saying, you can't even have this factual report about how much it's costing people just to repair it. I don't think that attorney client privilege or deliberative process is a good explanation for that because generally you're not supposed to hide factual information.

Facts are not legal advice and they're also not something covered by the deliberative process exemption. So it just doesn't make sense. It just seems that they don't want to release this information because they just don't want people to see it.

And I mean, it's crazy. Just the cost of the MVTA is ridiculous. Yeah, I think it's important to know for people that just to contrast this, we know a lot about there's Donald Trump and January 6 and all the things that are in the news because there is a public records law that requires them to both catalog all the things the President does and make it public.

And not just him, but all the President's past, all that information is available. And what we're saying is that same office that you see on the news that we can know a lot about, what has done, what's doing, our office, that executive branch, there's nothing. And not only that, we will never know.

You can never know. You can't go retroactively backwards and get this information even after they leave office to find out how did they make decisions? Was there corruption? What were they doing? You can literally never know any of that information forever. And I think that's an extremist position that I think we need to make clear for people that that's what she's claiming and that's what she's doing.

To your point, Anna, I think the reason that the governor is able to do this is that the media doesn't make that clear. It just copies and pastes the nonsense as both sides ism to this. It gets their own interest and I think they could make it clear that this is just an outwardly bonkers position to be taken.

We would never allow this if this was Trump, people would be in this. They would just never be okay with this. But we just quietly go along with these nonsense answers and they could also be clear saying, this is what she said and this is what she did.

Not just what she did. They could be clear about, she's told us yes, and here is what she's doing. Yeah, I mean, I think that certain reporters have done a good job of bringing this issue up, like the Globe did do a number of stories about this, but I think it's something that should come up often.

I think part of the problem is when all these records requests get rejected, people just stop making the request and then it sort of stops being a news item to talk about it. And that's part of the problem. If you can make a request and it gets rejected, you're going to talk about that in your story, but then when they keep getting rejected, you just stop it because it's not adding much to your reporting.

But I think that it's still important context for people to understand that you're always only getting half the story when it comes to the governor. But all the just all the judiciary, literally the judiciary ruled that the governor was out of bounds, so that the judiciary so information about the own judges wouldn't get out. Like, it's just its own fact.

It's its own sort of self fulfilling lack of transparency. Sorry, Jonathan. Go ahead.

Oh, yeah, just wanted to make a quick note about Jordan. Your comments before just reminded me of the value of such documents to history, that when somebody's writing about how and why events in the past happened, they need something, right? Like, you're not going to write a good story about any historical event if it's just based on news clippings from the time they can be decent, but you're not getting the full picture of what happened, why decisions were made to the best of your ability. And then so having that lack of that, I forget the formal term for that.

When you can basically go back to retroactive records, that especially is a damaging thing that they're not like they're not. And to keep that going forward and going forward and going forward speaks to an inability to understand our state's history. A very quick side thing I just wanted to note one of my favorite articles in the Onion is this one from November of 2005 that says, CIA realizes it's been using black highlighters all these years with all of the redactions.

It's like, oh, we thought we were drawing your attention to the important part. That's funny. At one time, actually, I got a request back where they meant to redact something, but they had put like a red box around it, and I think it was supposed to be filled in with black after the fact, but they just left the red box around it.

So it was like instead of blacking it out, they drew extra attention what they didn't want to see so good. Oh my gosh. But yeah, I mean, I think we were going to talk about there's the governor, but then the legislature is probably the second biggest piece of state government that is exempt.

And the legislature, it's interesting because this is like the funnel through which all the reforms have to go through. The governor could voluntarily comply with the public records law, but to make sure future governors comply as well, you would have to get the legislature to pass a law. But then the legislature is also exempt.

And obviously that's a choice of the legislature because they could at any time pass a law. And in fact, there have been for a number of years attempts to get this changed. And in fact, during the 2015 and 2016, they worked on this law that did in fact pass.

That was like a big overhaul of the public records law. It was like the first big overhaul since the 1970s, and it made a lot of positive changes. There's certainly criticisms that could be made in terms of it not going far enough in a lot of ways, but it did genuinely improve the process a lot.

But what they sort of did was they punted on this whole issue of should state government be well, not state government, I mean, just to be clear, like agencies like the MBTA or something, they are subject to the public records law. It's just the people at the very top, the governor, the legislature, the courts. But they sort of talked about this issue, should we all be subject to the law? And what they did is classic Massachusetts.

They said, well, we're not sure, so we'll create a commission. Which is basically the trick they do when they want to seem like they're doing something, but they just don't really want to do it. I love this story.

I think this is hilarious. This is classic Massachusetts. So, I mean, just to be clear, these commissions are made up of legislators, so these are the state lawmakers who would have to get on board to pass the law.

It's not like an independent group of, I don't know, journalists or other interested parties who are going to come to some conclusion. It's the state lawmakers themselves. And so what they did is they didn't bother to meet for, I think it was like a year or so.

And it also was not until after the Boston Globe started asking them, hey, what's going on with this commission? So then the legislature gives the commission an eleven month extension on its deadline. And so finally the commission disbands in 2019 without issuing a report. And there was sort of a split, I guess, from where the Senate was more enthusiastic about reform and the House just wasn't interested at all.

And so while there was no joint report, the senators on the committee, they released their own report, which it didn't say that they should be subject to the public records law. It basically proposed these really timid, modest reforms, like the sort of two main ones were that legislative committee votes. These are the committees that before a bill goes up for a vote, it has to go through all these committees and they will either give it a favorable rating or they'll kill it by sending it to study.

Which again, is one of their little tricks of seeming like they're doing something without what even are these studies? Do you guys know? I don't even understand this. It's not real. Yeah, I know.

I don't think they're even a real thing. They don't exist. Yeah, they just demand all the studies.

Yeah. So these committees, they vote in secret. Like you could have a theoretically, and maybe you guys know of actual examples of this, you could have someone saying, oh, I support this reform, but then they go in the committee where nobody.

All the time happening and they just kill the bill and it happens all the time. Most bills fall into this category. People and then regularly co sponsor a bill and we'll think against it.

One of my favorite examples is somebody was trying to move up and was publicly telling the LGBTQI community that they were supporting the transgender civil rights bill while secretly trying to kill it in committee. Wow. Yeah.

Just quickly, one thing that's also even more damning about this is that I just remember that back if folks remember that there was a change with the House had proposed and there was a lot of pressure for making committee votes public. And they were like, well, we'll publish the no votes, we're not telling you and we'll tell you how many, we won't give you everything, but we'll tell you who voted no and we'll give you a tally. And one rep explained to me that part of the reason that they don't want to actually list everything out is because of how many of them don't even vote.

Because if you only plan to give somebody an hour to vote, if you basically send out a poll at 02:00 p.m. And say votes in by three, you're driving. You're not going to suddenly pull over to the side of your you might not even see that email.

And so because of how many of them don't even vote and they didn't want to, it would embarrass them to show how many people don't even you know that's there were the Senate report, one of the reforms it was recommending was making these votes public. And then the second big reform that it mentioned was I'm sorry, what? The committee votes? No, that was the first one. The second one is the written testimony that people submit making that public.

So when they hold all these hearings for bills and committee where they'll have people come in and testify in person and actually they have started posting a lot of that online, which is great, like the video of it. But even if you have the video still much quicker to be able to just read something than have to watch some of these hearings go on for like 5 hours. It can get pretty exhausting.

And they also jump around a lot, so it's much easier to have things in writing. And on top of it, not everybody who testifies does testify in person. We should be clear when we're talking about people testifying before these committees.

It's not just like your neighbor down the street who cares about some issue. It could be if it's a global warming type bill, it could be like the fossil fuel industry or something submitting testimony. And wouldn't it be nice to know what all these special interest groups are telling our state legislators? But we can't.

But then again, this was in the Senate report but House in particular has been really effective at stopping any of these reforms from being implemented not just by blocking legislation, but also just by not changing the rules of the legislature. So they could sort of similar to how the governor can follow the public records law voluntarily. They could institute sort of their rules, but they won't even do that in the House.

So it's a big problem in state government where we're missing all this stuff and it makes it very difficult for people to participate because if you don't even know how your legislator is voting and who is sort of bending their arm, then how do you have any impact on the process? You could have a pleasant conversation with your state rep and they're like, oh, I'm in the committee, I'm going to vote for this. But if they're BSing you and you don't know that they're BSing you, what are you supposed to do about that? There's nothing. You're out of luck.

Well, we are going to pause right here and mention that anybody who's listening to us, if you hear us pretty regularly, we would love to have your $5. That would be amazing if you can just give us a small donation to the show. We know that everybody listening to this and there's tons of people who see us on TikTok and other people know whether it's YouTube or the podcast.

Social media. We put out tons of small quotes on social media so that our information is really getting out there, even for people who don't have time to listen to the full podcast. So we are reaching tons and tons of people getting this information out there that you don't hear anywhere else except for on the mass dump newsletter and lights out mass podcast.

But all the different interviews that we do, we would love to hear from you. We also on our website we have a comments section. We would love to have your donation, large or small.

And that again does not go to any of the ones that you see or hear on this show, but it goes to the folks who do the sort of grind back end work that keeps this podcast going. So we're going to continue on. I would love to just ask you quick, Andrew, how did you get started doing this? So I guess my interest in this is from sort of the police and criminal justice angle.

That has always been my main focus and I think I filed my first public records request around 2011 and it's a very foggy memory. I think I heard about the Freedom of Information Act, which is the federal law, this is the similar law, but it applies to the federal government. And I just started kind of reading up on that and learning about the distinction between that and the state laws and just I got very interested in how basically what we're talking about, how you can not take people at their word and you can actually go and investigate things yourself.

And that's sort of what got me into journalism as well. Just that idea that you can investigate things. There's certainly a learning curve to it, but it's something that anyone can get involved with.

It doesn't require you to be like a lawyer and have gone through law school or something just to understand how this process works. And I think that it's like a really powerful thing that people should get involved with, just if it interests them. Yeah.

And you have some links for us, right, that we'll be able to put in the show. Yeah. I'll just say we've been talking maybe this is going to be a downer for people and make them not want to get involved.

We've been talking about how the state is so opaque, but you can make public records requests to your city or town and you can make them to state government, you can do it to the governor, you're just probably not going to get anything. But you can go to agencies of the state government, like the state police or the MBTA or the Energy and Environmental Services. Whatever your interest is, you can make public records requests to them.

And I have just sort of like a basic intro how you can get involved in public records requests. Like I said, there is a learning curve. I've been doing this over ten years and I accumulated a lot of knowledge and I have learned how to approach this and I've learned a lot of the nuance of it.

And you won't know that going in and you might be intimidated by it, but it is for all its faults, it is something that's open to the public and it is something that the average person can get involved with. It just takes a little bit of effort. You have to read up on it a little bit.

But you can make public records request, you can get information and if you are denied, there's a whole appeals process which I haven't written out my tips for that yet, but I can share a link to a podcast where I go into some of that that people might find helpful. And there are some tools out there people might want to be aware of. The main one I would point people to is I mean, I just do all this in my email, I find it that's the most convenient way to do it.

But there's a website called MuckRock that they help facilitate public records requests, not just in Massachusetts, but all around the know, to different states and to the federal government. I do think it costs a little bit of money, but you can sign up and they have templates for every state, so you just fill in what you want and you don't have to worry about filling in any of the other information. And they have accumulated contact information for lots of people, so you don't have to look it up yourself.

They're very useful tool, especially if you're sort of new to this and you're not comfortable. Kind of like going out on a limb and doing it on your own. So check them out.

A great site and they are focused in Massachusetts, I believe. Their headquarters is still in Cambridge, so they're a local outfit. And it's been a while since I talked to any of them.

But I do know some of the people. They're good people. But beyond that, I guess just another thing if this whole transparency thing is of interest to you, but even if you don't want to get hands on with it, you should be reaching out to your legislators and the governor and just telling them that this is an important issue.

And there's three bills out there I'll just focus on the one that I think is sort of the most expansive, which is by Senator Becca Rausch. Is it Rausch? I'm sorry if I got her name correct incorrectly. Becca Rausch.

Rausch. Okay. She's got s 2064.

It would apply the public records law to the governor and the legislature. And unlike the other bills out there, I believe it's actually retroactive too. I do have a concern about it, which is that it would add this exemption for policy making stuff that I think is more broad than the one that already exists.

And I think that's probably a compromise. But I'm a little worried that if it ever became law, it would be a problem because obviously the legislature and governor, their main thing is making policy. So I think it would exempt a lot of their records.

But I think that we need to have something people can get on board with and people should at least be reaching out to their legislators, to the governor, you know, so, S 2064, talk to your legislators about that. Tell them that just transparency in general is like a very important thing. I've heard it before, that people don't care about that.

They care about stuff that affects their bottom line. But transparency, even if it's sort of an abstract issue, to some extent, it impacts everything. Things don't change unless they're sort of out in the public sphere.

They're out being debated by people. They're on the front page of the Boston Globe or whatever. And the only way to do that is to have the information available.

So regardless of what your sort of pet issue is, transparency is related to it. And a lack of transparency is probably inhibiting whatever reforms you think should be implemented just because of the lack of debate it creates. Yes.

Can we ask you super quick just a fun question about what kind of podcasting tools and other newsletter tools and stuff in 30 seconds? Well, I do my newsletter through substac. It's Andrew QMr it might be easier to just search on Google for the math dump if you can't remember that.

But I don't know in terms of podcasting, I've just been using audacity know, recording through zoom and stuff. I don't have a particularly special set up for that yet. Maybe as I do it some more, I'll get something nicer.

But it's been pretty simple so far. We just started the podcast. The one about Morahili was episode three, but hopefully people will check that out.

We went into a lot more detail about all the records requests that she's rejected, and we played all the clips of her talking about how she's going to be the most transparent governor ever and trying to explain away her lack of follow through on that. So I think people who like your podcast are probably going to find that entertaining and informative. Fantastic.

We hear that you have some ongoing lawsuits. Oh, yeah. So like I said, the main thing I'm focused on is like, police in the justice system.

So there's something called a Brady list. People may have heard of it's like a list of police officers. It's a list that's kept by prosecutors of police officers where there's some potential credibility issue.

Like it may be that they were actually found to have been untruthful in the past. Sometimes it's like there was a finding of excessive force or something to that effect. And basically these prosecutors keep a list because when they prosecute someone, if they have evidence that could undercut their case in some way, they're required to turn that over to the defense.

Like, you can't just go in and prosecute someone and hide all the evidence that's going to help their case. You've got to turn that stuff over. And that could include evidence that a witness is potentially not credible or that their credibility could be undermined.

And so not all prosecutors keep them. But there is something called a Brady List. Some of them do like the Middlesex DA and some other Das in the state.

But regardless of whether they keep these lists, they're still required to make these disclosures. So I had been going around and requesting this stuff from all the Das in Massachusetts, and I won't say these are the only two I had a problem with, but there are two that I most people listen to your podcast are probably going to have the ability to do just because it's extremely time consuming. It's hard to find a lawyer.

Like, my lawyer is representing me pro bono through a Harvard Law clinic that they can only take on so many clients and they can only do ones where they think it's going to be the most impactful and stuff. But I am suing the Bristol County District Attorney's office and the Northwestern District Attorney's office. The kind of this cracks me up.

Like, they gave me all these disclosures that they gave to defense lawyers, but they blacked out the names of all the police officers. So it's so ridiculous. And the funny thing is, some of this is stuff that I'm 99% sure has already been reported in the media.

So it's like they're making me go to court for something that it's already out there. Like, it's so ridiculous in some cases. I don't think it's been reported, which is why I think it really is important to follow through.

But it's ridiculous that they're claiming that it would violate the police officer's privacy and that sort of thing. In the Bristol County case, it's a little more complicated. I don't think we can get into it.

There's more legal issues, but it's sort of a similar thing where they're trying to hide a lot of the information about these Brady disclosures. And it's something I've written a bunch about on my newsletter, so you can go check that out, and I'm going to have an update about it soon. I don't know exactly when, but if you subscribe, you can read it when it comes out.

Yes, and any feeling from my regular co host before we ask for our final question, but the importance of all this, I just think it's just a reminder, just the importance of contacting your legislator about it. We already have guilted them into, like the reason they started posting the video online is because of all of us complaining about it a bunch. The reason that they have agreed to the no votes is because we were pushing and complaining about it.

Also because their position is indefensible and ridiculous and just fundamentally small, d undemocratic. And I think so, you know, there's it's not yes, it's opaque, but also we have been able to push this issue because their position is so out of whack, because we're such an outlier, because their positions are so extremist in the absurd. And so continue to raise your voice about it.

Continue to push on it. And especially for police oversight, that's the place where it's the most important, in my opinion, as well. Your ability to your freedom, people's freedoms, people's children, people's jobs are all affected by the just US system.

It requires regular people to provide oversight for there to be any sort of pressure for it to change in any way or be accountable in any way to the laws that they profess to believe in but constantly break on a regular basis. And fundamentally brainy violations are simply the fact that the police break the law and lie, and they have to disclose that, and we allow that to happen. And I just think that that should be clearer for people.

Right. Every time on Law and Order, once one of the characters is like, beating somebody or being, like, pushing the law, like, I don't really care. You should care because you're breaking the law.

And that would be disclosed. We don't need to be a society of vigilante bullies. Yeah, and just real quick, an example about that is when I got the Brady list from the Berkshire County DA's office, I found these disclosures about these two officers that talked about an excessive force investigation that was caught on video.

And so I immediately googled it and was like, oh, there's no news reporting about this. So I started making more records request. I got all this documentation and I got the video.

I did a whole lengthy article about this and I found out that one of the police officers, he works in this tiny town out in Berkshire County called Egermont. I'm not even sure if I have the pronunciation correct, but he had gotten like eleven complaints over the course of just a couple of years, two or three years that he was there. And he was also involved in this.

There was a criminal investigation of this alleged excessive force incident. He was facing a lawsuit and he had also on top of it, he had resigned from another job. And I was able to go and find out that there was like a video of him kicking a guy in the groin and trying to get into a fistfight with him in a jail cell and he had to resign from that job.

And then he is just easily able to get a job with basically no background check. They didn't go and check these. They knew he had worked at this other police station, other police department, but they didn't go and pull his records and find out why he had left.

And the only way I was able to find that out is because of public records and make that information available. And that's the value of this is that you can have a community like this where it's so small it doesn't even have a newspaper. But if these records are available, then someone who's making these records requests for these sort of broader issues like a Brady list or something, is going to be able to find some of that stuff that's going to be overlooked and know, take a microscope to it and reveal it to the public.

Great. We are coming up on the end of our episode, how can people get engaged and involved? So just, again, I will give you guys that link to put up about sort of how to get started making public records request and I'll send you that bill as well. But I do think people should try making a public records request at least once or twice.

If you're interested in politics, it could be anything related to your town or city or whatever. It doesn't have to be some massive thing. It could just be like you're curious about how much something costs, something like that.

Or you want to get some emails about some issue going on and find out what's going on behind the scenes. So really try it. It's called the Public Records Law because it's for the public.

It's not for journalists specifically or lawyers or whoever activists. It's for anyone. We will put that in the link below.

So try not to be intimidated. I think I did write a little bit about this. Even if you get this letter full of intimidating looking legalese and they're not going to give you any record, that doesn't mean that they're doing the right thing and it doesn't mean that there's no way to approach it.

At that point, you can file an appeal, which, again, I'll give you the information about that and just support transparency, tell people it's important, get involved in that way. I think that's it. That's the bottom line.

And if I may forward this podcast to your friends? Yeah, of course. And if you guys want to send them some money, but also send me some money, you can sign up for a subscription to my newsletter. It's free.

But you can also sign up for a paid subscription to help support all the work I'm doing. Because it's a lot like doing a podcast. I'm writing, I'm doing lawsuits.

Even though I'm being represented pro bono, it still eats up tons of my time having to help plan out our legal strategy and all that kind of thing. So I would like to believe that all the stuff I'm doing is making an impact. And if you agree with me, then definitely please help support me.

That's another way you can get involved. Fantastic. Thanks, everyone.

Great to be here with everyone listening and all of us chit chatting. Thank you, Andrew, for all your work. And we'll see everyone next week.