A St. Louis-based private organization sued the state of Missouri and its Office of Administration on Wednesday over what it contends is an unequal application for the state's Sunshine Law.
The Show-Me Institute, which promotes free markets and individual liberties, filed the suit in state court over information about public employees the Office of Administration has supplied to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.
The lawsuit centers on names and other identifying information about public employees that the state agency provides to the union with names, addresses, salaries and other information about active bargaining unit employees. The state has had a contract with AFSCME since May of 2015 to provide the information.
The Show-Me Institute said when it filed a public records request seeking the same information "in precisely the same format" as given to the union, it received copies with about 90% of the names and other information redacted.
It contends in the lawsuit that an attorney for the Office of Administration acknowledged the information had not been redacted when given to AFSCME, citing the contract it had with the union. The institute contends the government cannot rely on a contract with one group in refusing to provide the same information to another organization.
The point of the lawsuit is not to obtain the names but to prove that the unequal way the state is applying the Sunshine Law, said Zach Lawhorn, spokesman for Show Me Opportunity, a part of the institute. He said the institute would have been satisfied if the state had chosen to keep the employees' information private, rather than to provide it to AFSCME.
"We don't have a stated use for the information," Lawhorn said. "The issue is access to public information. Once they decided to make it public, it should be public to everyone."
Brittany Reuss, a spokeswoman for the Office of Administration, said the agency could not comment because it has not been served with the lawsuit.
The Sunshine Institute is seeking a judgment that the state violated the Sunshine Law and was aware it was doing so by redacting information given to the institute. It also asks the court to prevent the government from providing information to private organizations if it has already provided the information to other private groups; an order requiring the Office of Administration to provide copies that are not redacted to the institute, and requiring the state to pay penalties provided under the law.