Behind Box No. 1 purchased by Utah Democrats for $5,000 was a zonker, not the Big Deal they hoped would prove Republicans shenanigans behind closed doors to draw new political lines that are extra partisan.
Democrats on Thursday showed The Salt Lake Tribune just how bland documents were that they received through an expensive open-records request, as the party works to convince the Legislature to release two other boxes that it believes hold fireworks about GOP secrets.
"There wasn't one ounce of good faith on the part of the legislative analysts. They played a $5,000 game on the Democratic Party" through a nasty bait-and-switch, said Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis.
The Legislature estimated a $5,000 cost to process and copy all communications by legislators on redistricting. Democrats agreed to pay that after initial protests. But when party officials went to pick up documents, they were told the final cost would be $14,250 instead.
The party was allowed to take one of three boxes of prepared documents for the $5,000 it had paid, but was told which box it had to take. The Legislature will not give it the other two boxes unless it pays the extra $9,250, but the Legislature's top leaders are currently considering the party's appeal of that.
"It appears to be clear that they sifted through and picked all the completely inane things and put them in the first box, with the idea that they could cover up the rest of whatever is there. I think it's pathetic," Dabakis said. "This has all been manipulated."
Legislative attorneys said they acted responsibly in providing whatever records were available.
Robert Rees, of the office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, said, "There was no sifting through documents to pick out the bland ones. ... The box provided happened to be the first set of documents produced through [our search] process."
Examples of what The Tribune found in the box of 5,000 pages that Democrats received for $5,000 include:
• Roughly 2,000 pages of comments that Utahns had posted online to the Legislature's redistricting Web page. They had long been available publicly on the Internet.
• About 500 pages of a spreadsheet that summarized those online comments. The pages are not easily readable, as each is essentially a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Comments run horizontally over several sheets, and they must be put together to see entire comments.
• Numerous copies of the final redistricting bills that were emailed to legislators, amounting to hundreds of pages. For each member who received that email, full copies of the bills and maps were printed. Those bills and maps had been immediately available publicly.
• Dozens of copies of a press release sent by the Governor's Office to lawmakers about signing the final redistricting bills. Driving up copying costs was that each email contained two copies of the press release.
• Hundreds of pages of emails from constituents commenting on redistricting. Copying costs were run up because the email addresses generally appear on one page, and the messages were printed on other pages. When the same message was sent to multiple members, full copies were made for each member who received it.
The Tribune, and other news media, have filed open-records requests of their own seeking the other two boxes of documents. But at a hearing this week on the Democrats' appeal of costs, the Legislative Office of Research and General Counsel said it did not plan to give them to anyone who did not cover the full cost of processing the documents.
"I don't think there's a shot at it" being released, Dabakis said. "Because that's not the way Republican leadership and Republicans in the Legislature think. … They would rather have it sit in a closet unseen."
Dabakis said he has no objection if the Legislature releases the documents to the news media instead of the party. "We would not only not object, we would be thrilled," he said.