The Romney Hard Drive Purge: OK Or Not?

By WGBH News & Wires


Nov. 17, 2011

mitt romney

Mitt Romney on the campaign trail in May 2011. What to make of the allegation that his aides as governor cleaned out more than their wall calendars and coffee mugs when he left office? (Carlos Osorio/AP)

BOSTON — People have been scratching their heads since the Boston Globe broke the news Nov. 17 that members of Mitt Romney’s gubernatorial administration reportedly purchased their state-issued hard drives and wiped out all of their emails after Romney left office.
It is apparently legal. The governor’s office is exempt from a 1997 public records law that says that all government data must be retained and open to the public. But some observers are saying it violates the spirit of the law.
“This story I think is very disturbing,” Pam Wilmot of Common Cause Massachusetts said on The Emily Rooney Show on Nov. 17. “This is public information. We need to have it retained in a form in which it can be searched.”
The state’s public records laws covers municipal governments but not the governor’s office or state legislature, Wilmot said, and the framers of that law knew what they were doing. “I don’t think that was an oversight. It was intentional, in a way. Being subject to public records requests is a hassle for government. But frankly, that’s what it’s about! It’s our government and this information needs to be available to everybody,” she said.
The controversy “also points to how far out of date we are in terms of storing this stuff. We’ve got boxes and boxes and boxes of paper but not really a digital archive. In fact public employees right now are required to print out their information and store it in a file instead of storing it on a server. “
It is possible that the Romney aides in fact violated document retention rules that are designed to keep records intact should they be needed for future law enforcement purposes, Wilmot added.
Journalist Siddhartha Mahanta of “Mother Jones” magazine said the practice isn’t unheard of. He wrote earlier this year that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also destroyed records in advance of a presidential bid. And it’s not unique to one political party:
There “are all these little sort of loopholes that can be exploited and that can be used by public officials to keep their records out of the public eye. So I do think that it’s something that members of either party would be prone to doing,” he said.
However, Mahanta thought “it’s still a pretty big violation of the public trust.”
The Romney campaign team issued a letter on Nov. 17 accusing Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick of using his office as “an opposition research arm” of the Obama re-election campaign, The Associated Press reported.

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