Elections 2010: Oklahoma companies contribute $1.4 million to Republican Governors Association in 3rd Quarter
We ran a story back in August about how much Oklahoma companies and wealthy individuals contributed to national political groups called 527s. Those groups are organized under the federal tax code to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on political races. The only limitation is that the ads cannot be coordinated with campaigns.
Well, the latest quarterly reports were filed Friday with the Internal Revenue Service, and the money has kept flowing from Oklahoma donors.
The Republican Governors Association, which has run several TV ads supporting GOP gubernatorial candidate Mary Fallin, brought in more than $1.4 million from Oklahomans in the third quarter. Here’s a quick look at state contributors who gave the RGA more than $5,000 from July to September:
By contrast, the Democratic Governors Association collected just $1,250 in contributions from Oklahomans during the same period.
In its IRS filings, the Republican Governors Association reported raising $31 million in the third quarter. Its Democratic counterpart collected $9.8 million during the same period.
For more information on 527 groups, check out the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets site.
From Sunday’s newspaper:
- Click here to see a list of Oklahoma companies, tribes and individuals who gave more than $5,000 to IRS 527 political groups.
By Paul Monies
More than $2 million has flowed from Oklahoma companies, tribes and wealthy individuals to national political groups such as the Republican Governors Association and Democratic Governors Association.
Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corp. has given $900,000 to those types of groups in the current election cycle, according to filings with the Internal Revenue Service. The Chickasaw Nation has contributed $360,000 since January 2009.
The Oklahoman examined contributions of $5,000 or more to the organizations, which are called 527 groups after the section of federal tax code under which they are organized. The tax-exempt organizations can accept unlimited amounts of money from companies, unions and individuals.
The 527 groups are limited in how they spend contributions on political campaigns and issues. They cannot make direct contributions to candidates, but they can run ads, make phone calls or do other political activities.
Keith Gaddie, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma, said many companies feel more comfortable contributing to groups that will make independent expenditures in political campaigns. Companies also are trying to blunt the effects of similar spending by labor unions.
“They are the only form of political actor out there who faces an economic sanction for political action from customers,” Gaddie said. “If you get too political as a corporation, you face consumer boycotts, and you can lose customers.”
Gaddie pointed to retail giant Target Corp., which recently gave $150,000 to a group backing a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota who opposes gay marriage. The company soon faced boycotts and protests by groups supporting gay rights.
Labor unions don’t face the same type of backlash for their contributions because their members expect a certain level of advocacy, Gaddie said.
Devon Energy made contributions to the Republican State Leadership Comjmittee ($350,000) and the Republican Governors Association ($300,000).
The company also contributed $250,000 to American Solutions for Winning the Future, a 527 group founded by former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Chip Minty, a spokesman for Devon, said the company’s donations are based on candidate records and groups that support job growth and a healthy business environment. Minty said Devon’s political contributions are a small part of the overall spending by the company, which has annual revenue of almost $9 billion.
“We think it’s our responsibility as a publicly traded company, a major employer and a partner in communities where we operate to be engaged in conversations about energy policy,” Minty said. “If we’re not doing that, then we’re going to have to answer to our shareholders about that.”
Across town, Chesapeake Energy Corp. has been more subdued in giving to 527 groups this election cycle. The Democratic Governors Association reported a $25,000 contribution from Chesapeake in May. Company spokesman Jim Gipson said Chesapeake also plans to give a similar amount to the Republican Governors Association.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, stopped in Tulsa last week to raise money for Mary Fallin, the GOP candidate for Oklahoma governor. The association raised more than $58 million since January 2009, according to IRS filings. The Democratic Governors Association raised $40.2 million during the same period.
Gaddie said upcoming redistricting battles in several states are helping drive contributions to the governors associations. There are gubernatorial races in 37 states this year. Governors play key roles in redistricting state and federal electoral districts in most states.
“The more governorships you control, the better position you’re in to ensure that your party doesn’t get totally jobbed during redistricting,” Gaddie said.
Other companies with Oklahoma ties giving to both the Republican and Democratic governors associations include Marathon Oil Co. and Noble Energy Inc.
The Chickasaw Nation gave more than $133,000 to the Democratic Governors Association and $125,000 to the Republican Governors Association. The tribe also contributed $100,000 to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said the tribe supports a variety of individuals and organizations involved in the political process.
“A working government-to-government relationship is integral to achieving our mission of enhancing the overall quality of life of Chickasaw people,” Anoatubby said in a statement.
Individuals, companies and labor unions have different limits on contributions to political groups depending on how the groups are set up and how they use the donated funds:
Political action committees: These are organized by people with similar political philosophies to make contributions to candidates, parties or causes. Most PACs represent businesses, labor or ideological groups. They are not allowed to accept direct contributions from companies or labor unions, but they can contribute funds to candidate campaign committees. State and federal laws limit the amount of contributions to PACs from individuals or other PACs.
Internal Revenue Service 527 groups: Tax-exempt groups set up for political activities, including voter mobilization and issue advocacy. They can raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations or labor unions, but they can’t donate those funds directly to candidates.
Source: Center for Responsive Politics
From Saturday’s paper:
As part of the state budget agreement, Oklahoma motor vehicle records will now cost $25 apiece – the highest fee for such records in the nation. Insurance companies use the records to set rates.
BY PAUL MONIES
A budget plan to more than double the price of driving records gives Oklahoma a new distinction: it now charges more than any other state.
With the passage of Senate Bill 1556, motor vehicle records will cost $25, up from $10. An additional fee of $2.50 remains for online sales by NIC Inc., the company that operates the state’s website. The online charge was not raised.
The bill now goes to Gov. Brad Henry, but the increase was part of the budget agreement finalized last week between the governor and legislative leaders.
Charges for motor vehicle records vary widely nationwide, according to a compilation of rates by public records publisher BRB Publications Inc. Rhode Island charges $19.50. New Mexico provides copies of the records for free, although it does charge $4.95 if they are ordered online.
More than 20 states charge extra fees for online access to the records.
Michael Sankey, president of BRB Publications and author of several books on motor vehicle records, said a handful of states increase the fees on those records each year.
It’s a money-making deal for states because the actual costs for motor vehicle records are far lower than what most states charge, he said.
The higher Oklahoma fees mean the state could make more than $30 million a year selling motor vehicle records to insurance companies, data brokers and employment verification firms. A fiscal analysis of SB 1556 prepared by legislative staff shows the increase could add $12 million to the state’s general fund and $6 million to a revolving fund for the state Department of Public Safety.
In the past five years, Oklahoma has brought in about $13 million each year for selling those records, according to records.
Included on the records are names, birth dates, driver’s license numbers and recent driving histories. The type of information sold is governed by the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act.
The act contains more than a dozen possible scenarios that allow numerous public and private organizations and individuals to obtain the records, but most of the buyers are insurance companies.
Jim Walker, a lobbyist for State Farm Insurance, said he heard earlier this year Oklahoma’s fee might be raised to $15. Walker said the company was “shocked” last week to see the fee raised to $25.
“This could ultimately translate into higher insurance rates,” Walker said.
Insurance companies use the driving history part of the records to set car insurance rates. Walker said Oklahoma’s higher fees could mean State Farm buys the records less frequently. That would give it less flexibility in setting rates for good drivers.
“If you’re a good driver, we don’t want to charge you the same as a bad driver,” Walker said.
UPDATE, 6/1/10: I went back and looked at Gov. Henry’s budget proposal from February and saw the following passage on Page 10:
Certified Copies of Driving Records
The State charges $10 to persons attaining a certified copy of a driver record. The Department of Public Safety forecasts that it will collect $10.6 million in FY-2011 at the current rate. This budget proposes doubling the fee for such copies to $20. This generates an additional $10.6 million in revenue for FY-2011.
You can check out a Google spreadsheet of the tweets here.
Here’s a quick tag cloud I created using IBM’s ManyEyes tool:
The Gov 2.0a conference had a busy first day on Thursday at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City. There’s a lot of good work being done both in Oklahoma and nationally in terms of government transparency, technology and citizen engagement.
I gave an abbreviated version of this presentation on an afternoon panel with Matt Mueller, city manager of Guthrie; Stephen Nolen, chief information officer for Shawnee; and Craige Baird, technology services director for Ponca City.
Developing a Data Ecosystem: Media’s Role in Gov 2.0
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to recap all the presentations from Day One, but among the highlights were presentations by Laurel Ruma, the Gov 2.0 evangelist for O’Reilly Media Inc., and a keynote speech Thursday evening by Oklahoma’s new chief information officer Alex Pettit.
Pettit, who has held technology positions with the Denton, Texas, and Brown University in Rhode Island, had a refreshing take on the technology landscape in state government. In his experience, Pettit said vendors have gained most of the power in technology procurement and processes and often work with information specialists inside agencies to block changes. (Read more on those types of “iron triangles” and “regulatory capture.”)
Pettit has been on the job for a little over one month. In a humorous aside, he described his efforts to reach out to some of the technology heads at various state agencies to ask them about their plans for fiscal year 2011. Aside a few who ignored the e-mails, some e-mailed back to ask just one question: “Do we have to comply?” with Pettit’s request.
“My mother would call that chutzpah,” Pettit said.
Pettit said he had no silver bullets to reform state technology and that he was committed to active consultations with the users, buyers and managers of technology at state agencies. (Keep in mind that Pettit’s position does not cover any technology controlled by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, which lobbied to be kept off the law that created the CIO position at the end of the 2009 legislative session.)
He said state technology should move to a “one state” focus on the ultimate end user: the citizen. Part of the solution will be recognizing that political leadership and citizens are “outcome oriented,” while those in charge of technology at state agencies are often “process oriented.”
If you’re interested in the public interactions among government, technology, social networks and freedom of information, you might want to check out the Gov2.0a conference at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City on May 6-7.
I’ll be presenting on a panel about the media’s role in the Government 2.0 movement.
Other confirmed speakers are the state’s new chief information officer, Alex Pettit, as well as Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, and Rep. Ryan Kiesel, D-Seminole. At the local government level will be Zach Nash with the city of Oklahoma City, Matt Mueller from Guthrie and Dustin Haisler from Manor, Texas.
Check out the full list of speakers and sessions here.
Also, all conference attendees will get a free copy of the Open Government book published by O’Reilly. (It’s also available as an iPhone app here.) Co-author Laurel Ruma is one of the speakers at the conference.
The prices for passes and dinner tickets to the conference range from $49 to $99 before April 30. After that, they range from $99 to $159.
In other Gov 2.0 news, the Oklahoma House of Representatives last week passed an amendment to Senate Bill 1759, which would expand the state’s efforts to put government information online. The amendment, by Rep. Murphey, followed an earlier effort that fell short. SB 1759 now heads back to the Senate for consideration.
In an e-mail, Murphey said SB 1759 goes much further than his earlier bill. Here’s how he summarized the main points of the proposal:
1. Establish standardized social media and limited liability polices for state agencies.
2. The standardization of interfaces for the utilization of state government services through web-based access. (Such as the 311 open source standards.)
3. Require data set publication and APIs to interface with the data sets with a focus on pushing out the data which is most often requested through open records requests.
4. Establish an application process by which developers and members of the public can ask the board to require new data feeds.
Meanwhile, in Washington today, a bipartisan group of lawmakers organized the first Transparency Caucus, which will attempt to pass laws requiring certain government information to be posted online. That effort is being supported by the Sunlight Foundation, a government and technology “think tank.”
The mail part of the Census for 2010 has ended, and the results aren’t pretty for Oklahoma.
The U.S. Census Bureau said today that Oklahoma’s mail participation rate came in at 66 percent, down from 69 percent in the 2000 census. You can check out a Google map of the latest participation rates at the Census’ Take 10 site. Here’s the latest map of the mail participation rates by county in Oklahoma:
Nationally, the mail participation rate this year was 72 percent, unchanged from 2000, the Census said in a news release. Oklahoma’s participation rate of 66 percent in 2010 put it in the bottom tier of states, along with Louisiana, West Virginia, New Mexico and Alaska.
Wisconsin lead all states with a mail participation rate of 81 percent. It was followed by Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan.
The next phase of the Census is the home visits by Census enumerators. They will begin showing up this weekend:
The nation’s response helps pave the way for the next phase of the 2010 Census: the deployment of 635,000 census takers across the country who will go door to door to obtain census responses from all remaining households. The temporary census workers are in training this week and will begin obtaining census responses this weekend.
(d)1.a. The home addresses, telephone numbers, social security numbers, and photographs of active or former law enforcement personnel, including correctional and correctional probation officers, personnel of the Department of Children and Family Services whose duties include the investigation of abuse, neglect, exploitation, fraud, theft, or other criminal activities, personnel of the Department of Health whose duties are to support the investigation of child abuse or neglect, and personnel of the Department of Revenue or local governments whose responsibilities include revenue collection and enforcement or child support enforcement; the home addresses, telephone numbers, social security numbers, photographs, and places of employment of the spouses and children of such personnel; and the names and locations of schools and day care facilities attended by the children of such personnel are exempt from s. 119.07(1).
This is how the state of Florida deals with law enforcement and open records for state personnel. Anyone want to guess what’s missing? Any reference whatsoever to dates of birth.
But the Kabuki theater continues down at the Oklahoma Capitol. For the second time in two weeks, the lawmakers on Senate Bill 1753 held a news conference on whether the birth dates of public employees should be exempt from the Open Records Act.
Last week, it was to announce their support for a lawsuit by various public employee groups against a pending open records request by The Oklahoman.* This week, it was law enforcement’s turn. See our story here; the AP version is here.
Backers of SB 1753 have cycled through several arguments for closing off the birth dates of public employees: fear of identity theft; fear of “unwarranted invasion of privacy”; and now fear of harm to law enforcement. (Read the press release here.)
At Tuesday’s press conference, Rep. Randy Terrill picked up a talking point first advanced last week by his friends at the Oklahoma Public Employees Association: that reporters for The Oklahoman were “privacy pirates” who have no regard for state employees.
“This is not a case where there has been an allegation of corruption or impropriety involving a specific employee or group,” said Terrill, R-Moore. “This is just a fishing expedition based on the presupposition that every state employee is a criminal, crook, thief or wrongdoer just waiting to be discovered by the data miners and privacy pirates on a newspaper’s payroll.”
Terrill is a skilled legislator. Capitol observers will tell you he is one of the most well-prepared lawmakers under the dome, but he finds himself in a tough spot: caught between the media, OPEA and law enforcement.
On one side, Terrill wants credit for filing a bill, HB 3382, to open up DPS dash cam footage. On the other side, he has accused The Oklahoman of manufacturing stories and practicing advocacy journalism.** Of course, one person’s “manufacturing” is another person’s investigation:
All of the law enforcement agencies appearing at this week’s press conference have their funding controlled at least in part by Terrill’s chairmanship of the House appropriations and budget subcommittee for public safety and judiciary. Negotiations on the budget for FY 2011 are ongoing.
In fact, Commissioner of Public Safety Kevin Ward and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Director DeWade Langley rarely make themselves available to the media. But they were front and center at Tuesday’s press conference.
Later that same day, OSBI held a separate press conference about its homicide clearance rate, but Langley was a no show. Instead, he let OSBI spokeswoman Jessica Brown deal with the questions that have been raised about OSBI’s handling of recent murder investigations. Here’s how the AP put it:
OSBI Director A. DeWade Langley has not responded publicly to criticism of the agency. “That’s why he hired me,” Brown said. “He does his things and I do mine.”
Back to the DOB issue. Can you make an argument that there should be a balance between the public’s right to know and the privacy rights of public employees? Yes. Such a balance exists in the Open Records Act: the Social Security numbers, home addresses and home telephone numbers are already off limits.
In effect, under current law, all public employees in Oklahoma enjoy the same protections as law enforcement personnel in Florida.
Let me repeat that: All public employees in Oklahoma enjoy the same protections as law enforcement personnel in Florida.
It’s a fact of life that we leave a paper trail in most of our public and private transactions. I wonder if any of the dozen law enforcement agencies represented at Tuesday’s Capitol press conference have personnel policies that limit their employees having telephone numbers in the phone book, buying property, registering to vote or holding driver’s licenses?
The privacy rights of public employees, including those who work in law enforcement, are already fewer than those in the private sector. The names, agency and salary of state employees are readily available on the state’s Open Books site. Under a 2003 law, state employees can be fired for not paying their state income taxes, something that usually won’t get you fired in the private sector. Furthermore, every employee’s employment application is an open record.
Terrill, who has used “personal information” from voter registrations for his political campaigns, has said in interviews those records are different because you voluntarily register to vote. But don’t you also voluntarily become a state employee? There is no indentured servitude in state government.
What we’re talking about here is the difference between public information and confidential/private information. A recent Government Accountability Office report details the differences:
● Public records such as birth and death records, property records, motor vehicle and voter registrations, criminal records, and civil case files.
● Publicly available information not found in public records but nevertheless publicly available through other sources, such as telephone directories, business directories, classified ads or magazines, Internet sites, and other sources accessible by the general public.
● Nonpublic information derived from proprietary or nonpublic sources, such as credit header data, product warranty registrations, and other application information provided to private businesses directly by consumers.
Other states have developed detailed policies regarding the use and reuse of those types of information. In fact, one of the best policies I’ve seen is from neighboring Arkansas. They have a “data matrix” that spells out how governments should deal with personal data. Here’s some examples of what Arkansas deems “very sensitive”:
Social Security numbers
Most home addresses
Comprehensive law enforcement data
Domestic abuse data
Foster care data
Health and medical data
Library borrower’s records
Signature imaging data
Credit card numbers
Civil investigative data
Criminal history data
Economic development assistance data
Food assistance programs data
Head Start data
Juvenile delinquent data
Trade secrets data
Since the state just hired its first ever chief information officer, maybe one of his tasks could be developing a similar data sensitivity policy here in Oklahoma.
(*Full disclosure: I have signed an affidavit in the pending court case in Oklahoma County.)
(**This blog, which began two years ago, occasionally advocates for open records, open government and open data.)
From Sunday’s paper:
BY JOHN ESTUS, PAUL MONIES – THE OKLAHOMAN and GAVIN OFF – Tulsa World
2010 Copyright © The Oklahoman
The state of Oklahoma makes tens of millions of dollars selling personal information about people that some lawmakers and labor organizations want kept secret for government employees, The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World have learned.
At least $65 million has been made in the past five years from the sale of millions of motor vehicle records that include birth dates and other personal information of all state drivers, Department of Public Safety records show.
A private company has collected about $15 million conducting most of those transactions on behalf of the state, records show.
As a result, birth dates and other personal information flow freely on a daily basis to insurance companies, employment screening services, government agencies, attorneys, individuals and more.
While the state earns money selling records that include birth dates, lawmakers and some labor groups are working to shut off access to birth dates of public employees to the public, The Oklahoman and others working on the public’s behalf. Senate Bill 1753, by Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, would exempt government worker birth dates from the state’s Open Records Act.
Leftwich, Terrill and supporters of the bill claim releasing birth dates could endanger the safety of employees and lead to identity theft. They have provided no evidence of such harm being done in the past as a result of birth dates being public.
Leftwich and Terrill did not return calls Friday seeking comment on the state selling motor vehicle records that include birth dates.
One privacy expert said keeping birth dates secret won’t help protect workers’ identities or safety because the information is already available elsewhere.
“What I would tell them is, ‘Stop trying to shut the barn door after the horses are gone,’” said Richard J.H. Varn, chief information officer for the city of San Antonio and executive director of Coalition for Sensible Public Records Access. “It’s a lack of understanding by policy makers to what an effective countermeasure is to identity theft.”
Birth dates of public employees are presumed open records in Oklahoma under a recent attorney general opinion. They make it possible for the public to accurately identify government workers whose salaries they pay with tax dollars. Birth dates are found in numerous public documents, making them crucial components of background checks because they allow the public to differentiate between people with common names.
Government agencies have for years provided their employees’ birth dates in response to open records requests.
Records easy to get
Among the most widely distributed records that include birth dates are the motor vehicle records the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety maintains for all licensed drivers.
Motor vehicle records include driver names, birth dates, driver’s license numbers and recent driving histories. Some of that information is not available under the state Open Records Act.
Motor vehicle records can be bought online or in person. The state gets $10 per record, and most of the money goes into the state’s general fund, said Wellon Poe, chief legal counsel for the Department of Public Safety.
Top clients are clearing houses that sell the information to insurance companies and corporations, Poe said.
In order to get motor vehicle records, requesters must sign agreements saying they are authorized to receive the information under the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. The act contains more than a dozen possible scenarios that allow numerous public and private organizations and individuals to obtain the records.
The requester must also provide the name and another unique identifier — such as an address or driver’s license number — of the person whose record they are requesting, Poe said.
Poe said it’s tough to prove whether those who sign the agreements meet the requirements to begin with.
“We don’t go out and run a big background check on somebody that walks in and tries to get an MVR,” Poe said.
State tag agents also sell motor vehicle records. Money made from those sales flows through the state Tax Commission and wasn’t included in the revenue records provided by the Department of Public Safety, Poe said.
Most of the records are bought online for $12.50 each, with $10 going to the state and a $2.50 processing fee going to the company that operates the state’s Web site.
NIC Inc., the operator of www.ok.gov , has made an estimated $15 million off those fees in the past five years, according to an analysis of Department of Public Safety revenue records.
The Kansas-based company has contracts to run government Web sites in 22 other states. The Office of State Finance in December renewed the state’s contract with Oklahoma Interactive LLC, an NIC subsidiary that the state has contracted with for Web services since 2001.
Of the $132.9 million in revenue NIC reported in 2009, nearly half came from selling motor vehicle records and driver’s license data from the states it serves, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
In marketing materials and news releases, NIC emphasizes that its services are offered at no cost to states, an important selling point because of budget shortfalls. The revenue from motor vehicle records sales has allowed the company to provide more than 280 services online for state government in Oklahoma.
Chris Neff, vice president of marketing for NIC, said companies such as ChoicePoint/LexisNexis, Insurance Information Exchange, American Driving Records and Acxiom Information Security Services regularly buy motor vehicle records from Oklahoma.
“The biggest single reason why they’re pulling it is because they use the driver history information to set rates for your annual renewal for your vehicle policy,” Neff said.
Neff said those companies also package the same information with other sources such as credit reports, property records and criminal histories. Those companies often use birth dates as secondary identifiers to distinguish people with common names from one another, he said.
“All those data points may be used, but there are restrictions as part of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act in how that information may be used and how often it may be used,” Neff said. “The risks of having outdated data impacts whether somebody is extended credit or what rates they pay for certain services. It’s incumbent on having accurate, regularly refreshed information.”
Schools sell information, too
Elsewhere, birth date information is available to third parties from public schools, colleges and universities. A federal law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, governs the release of student directory information. That information is also available under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
The directory information includes a student’s name, birth date, telephone number and address, along with other records. Schools must allow students to opt out of the disclosure, though local school officials said students rarely do.
Since 2000, Oklahoma State University has provided or sold student directory information 242 times, records show. In at least 19 cases, the data included birth dates.
“It could have been a lot more,” OSU spokesman Gary Shutt said.
OSU has sold student birth dates to a party store, a church and the university’s faculty council, for example. It also has provided student birth dates to the military for free.
Shutt said the university recently began providing year of birth instead of date of birth for standard directory information requests. OSU made the switch because some students use birth dates as passwords for various accounts. However, Shutt said OSU would likely provide birth dates upon request and no one has complained about the university providing the information.
The University of Oklahoma also provides student directory information to entities that request it, but it has not provided birth dates since at least 2008, said Rachel McCombs, OU’s open records officer.
An open records request by the Tulsa World for a list of recipients of OU student directory information is pending.
Concealing birth dates in public records is not an effective measure to fight identity theft because birth dates are available in so many other places, said Varn, the privacy expert from San Antonio.
“It’s like saying because terrorists use airplanes we’re going to quit flying,” Varn said. “No. There are worthy countermeasures.”
Birth dates can be found in voter registration records, driver’s licenses, lawsuits and even registration forms for some Web sites.
“If you want to buy someone’s full identity, you can buy it for 30 cents to $60 on the black market,” said Varn, who served for 12 years in the Iowa General Assembly.
Sponsors of the Coalition for Sensible Public Records Access, which Varn represents, include some of the largest data resellers in the country.
Varn said governments should encourage people to monitor their credit reports, protect their personal computers with security software and ask online businesses to require a password with transactions that use credit cards.
But they shouldn’t block access to public data, he said.
“They sell it for good reason,” Varn said. “People actually need it to do good things in the world.”
For example, employers use birth dates to help run background checks on job applicants. Journalists use birth dates to help find everything from sex offenders who drive school buses to felons who have gun permits.
“Clearly, we’ve had examples of public employees being hired and faulty background checks being done,” said Joey Senat, an open records expert and associate journalism professor at Oklahoma State University. “It’s unfortunate, but we need to know with whom we deal with in life, and this is a way to do it.”
The U.S. Census Bureau released a slick map application this week that lets you track 2010 Census participation by city, county or zip code.
I have to admit, we got our Census forms last week, and I still haven’t filled them out yet. If you’re in the same position, be careful of a scam going around that we reported on today. You do not have to provide your Social Security number on any Census form. And the Census Bureau has not yet started their door-to-door canvassing of households who haven’t returned their forms via the mail.
The agency’s regional office put out a press release today on the issue:
It is important to remember that door to door follow-up Census operations with households will not begin until late spring. These follow up operations will be conducted by official Census takers. If you have any questions about Census operations in your area, you may call the Kansas City Regional Census Center at (816) 994-2000. Here are some tips on how you can identify an official Census taker.
An official 2010 Census taker:
–Must present an ID Badge containing a Department of Commerce watermark and expiration date.
–May also be carrying a bag with a 2010 Census logo.
–Will provide you with their supervisor’s contact information and/or the local census office phone number for verification, if asked.
–Will only ask you questions appearing on the official 2010 Census form. If you need assistance completing your Census form, you may call (866) 872-6868.
Census answers are confidential and protected by federal law. All U.S. Census Bureau employees have taken an oath and are subject to 5 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine if they disclose any information that could identify you or your household. Answers will only be used for statistical purposes. The 2010 Census will ask for name, gender, age, race, ethnicity, relationship, and whether the home is owned or rented and how many people live in the home. The 2010 Census also asks for your phone number. If question responses are not understood, the household will be called.
Also, Census takers will:
–NOT ask for your social security number, bank account number or credit card number.
–NOT ask any information about your taxes or income.
–NEVER solicit donations or contact you by e-mail.
–ONLY ask you the questions listed on the Census questionnaire.