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Tong says lawmakers subject to FOI on new nonprofit board

August 7, 2019

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Documents held by elected officials related to a new education-related nonprofit are not exempt from Connecticut’s open records laws, the state attorney general ruled Wednesday.

That’s despite the fact that the General Assembly agreed to exempt the nonprofit from the Freedom of Information Act and state ethics laws at the request of the foundation that provided a significant portion of the funding.

Attorney General William Tong’s formal opinion said he believes documents held by Republican House Minority Leader Themis Klarides and other lawmakers on the Partnership for Connecticut’s board are subject to FOIA.

The nonprofit was created to oversee a $100 million contribution from Barbara and Ray Dalio, founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates; $100 million in matching state funds over five years; and any additional private donations.

“The fact that the corporate entity is exempted from FOIA does not mean that you as an individual are not subject to FOIA,” Tong, a Democrat, wrote in the opinion. He said the legislation that authorized Connecticut’s investment in the public-private partnership did not include language that exempted Klarides from FOIA.

Some lawmakers and open government advocates have raised concerns about the arrangement.

“The fact that tax dollars are involved, to me, mandates that there be transparency,” Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, recently told The Associated Press. “Since when does our wealthy community dictate how public policy should be crafted?”

Klarides said she appreciates the generosity of the Dalios and their passion for public education but has several problems with partnership, including the “awkward” arrangement of having elected officials sit on a board that’s exempt from open records laws.

“I’m beholden to my constituents, from hello to goodbye. That is my job,” she said. “I’m not going to compromise that transparency and open government for anybody.”

The partnership, which is supposed to receive another $100 million from other private contributions, has broadly been described as an opportunity to strengthen public education and promote greater economic opportunity, focusing on communities with high rates of poverty and disengaged youth. Barbara Dalio, who leads Dalio Philanthropies’ public education efforts, said being exempt from public disclosure rules would allow the board to have sensitive conversations and members would be “more free to be open about disagreeing, coming to consensus.”

She said she understood people’s concerns about a possible lack of transparency but insisted information about the partnership and its activities will be made available to the public. She noted how the 13-member board of directors would be bipartisan, including the top Democratic and Republican leaders of the General Assembly, four appointees from the Dalio foundation and three from Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, a strong advocate of the initiative.

Tong noted in the formal opinion that his office did not consult with the Freedom of Information Commission and that group might reach a different conclusion. The commission’s executive director has voiced concerns about the nonprofit being exempted from FOIA.

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