Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka is responsible for paying the state's bills. She is also the only public official in Illinois to reject our Freedom of Information Act request for the line-by-line state checkbook information showing these transactions. That's why our organization filed a lawsuit.
In her 2012 denial of our request, she argued that producing such data was an "undue burden." In her response to our suit, she says the data is on her website. First, both statements can't be true, and, second, it doesn't matter.
The comptroller's office claims that the information we requested is on her website, yet we have information from other sources indicating that there is data missing. More important, what is or isn't on the comptroller's website has no bearing on her duty to comply with a valid Freedom of Information Act request. Frankly, every citizen in Illinois deserves access to raw government data to analyze and present in the format they choose.
To allow government officials to decide the extent, presentation and format of public data is to allow the fox to guard the henhouse -- particularly in Illinois. You can hide a lot of wrongdoing in aggregating a line item. Other agencies have complied with our requests, indicating that producing this data not difficult. The city of Chicago sent us 10 years of their checkbook producing nearly 7 million lines of individual transactions. This included purchase order numbers, fund accounts, department codes, check numbers, vendor names, dates and the amount of the check. Illinois universities complied as well.
We were forced to file this suit because the comptroller didn't follow, and the attorney general didn't enforce, a straightforward law. The people have a right to see this data. It's that simple.
For The Good of Illinois