Opinion: Push in Sacramento to seal pension data based on false premises

Opinion from Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware, via San Jose Mercury News:  Recent press reporting suggests that legislators in Sacramento, pressured by state employee unions and retiree associations, may be considering amending the California Public Records Act to exempt from public disclosure the names of CalPERS pensioners linked to their retirement payments — information that's been open to public scrutiny for the past 28 years.

Californians Aware has issued a caution to one such lawmaker about the futility of such legislation, which would add no protection for most pensioners and which, to pass constitutional muster, would have to adopt findings demonstrating necessity, when all the proponents' announced rationales for such secrecy have been argued to the appellate courts and found unpersuasive.

First, almost all the information in question is already in the public domain as of 2011; see the searchable newspaper database based on CalPERS information at http://www.mercurynews.com/salaries/pensions. Thus only a small percentage of pensioners (the most recent) would be made anonymous by new legislation, since even if the newspaper-published data were taken down, the fact of its prior release by CalPERS would mean, under the Public Records Act, that anyone could demand its rerelease.

Moreover, the proponents' argument that retirees could be preyed upon as senior citizens if their names were publicly tied to their pensions has been rejected by the Court of Appeal as baseless in three separate decisions statewide dealing with county retirement associations' efforts to keep their members' names and pension amounts confidential.


Californians Aware is a member of NFOIC. –eds.