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How is the state going to do its voter ID education outreach?

You don’t need to know.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas will spend $2.5 million to spread the word about changes to the state’s voter ID law before the November election, but will not release details of how that money will be spent.

More than half of that taxpayer money will be spent on advertising, but officials will not say which markets they intend to target with television and radio spots.

As part of that outreach effort, the state will send “digital toolkits” to an estimated 1,800 organizations across Texas to engage local communities on voter education. The state will not identify those organizations or communities.

The outreach effort was mandated by a judge in Corpus Christi earlier this month after Texas’ voter ID law was found by a federal appeals court to discriminate against minorities. The court ordered the state to water down the law by expanding the types of identification voters can present at polls to cast ballots in time for the November election. The state also agreed to spend $2.5 million to educate voters and election officials across Texas about the changes.

The state hired public relations giant Burson-Marsteller to design its outreach effort, but asked the court to keep details of its plan under seal, preventing public scrutiny of such things as which regions to target with ads and which groups should receive education materials.

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, which asked the court to keep the information under seal, has said in court filings that those documents include “proprietary” or “confidential” information produced by Burson-Marsteller. Paxton’s legal team cited a 1978 case involving for President Richard Nixon, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that media outlets could not have access to tapes from a Watergate obstruction trial.

Among the documents sealed at the attorney general’s request are a chart listing local markets and dates Burson-Marsteller has recommended for purchasing advertisements to educate the public about the changes to the voter photo ID requirements. Another document names the 1,800 groups recommended to help spread the state’s voter messaging at the local level, a list compiled by the public relations firm.

The state has provided, in a court filing, a broad outline of how it plans to spend the $2.5 million, but so far has refused to release any details.

[…]

Texas’ open records law long has allowed the state to shield details about dealings with corporations on the basis that trade secrets or confidential corporate information could be disclosed.

In this case, Bill Cobb, an Austin lawyer who handles open records issues for corporations, said it is possible that some of Burson-Marsteller’s “secret sauce” could be at risk of being exposed if other PR firms competing for a state contract on voter education could benefit.

“Everyone agrees that open government is a good thing,” Cobb said. “but everyone agrees if Coke has to give its recipe to the government that its competitors aren’t allowed to get it.”

Cobb noted that a recent ruling from the Texas Supreme Court in a case involving Boeing has made it easier for the state and corporations to keep information secret.

“Companies have to make a business decision – could this information harm my future business prospects” said Cobb, a former deputy attorney general under Greg Abbott. “But now corporations don’t have to prove it’s a trade secret, just that a competitor could gain an advantage from acquiring the information.”

See here and here for some background. I’m sorry, but the stated rationale for keeping this all under wraps is a huge pile of baloney. How exactly are “a chart listing local markets and dates … for purchasing advertisements” or a list of “groups recommended to help spread the state’s voter messaging at the local level” proprietary information that could give an advantage to Burson-Marstellar’s competitors if they became known? This isn’t a product rollout for a new consumer toy or business innovation. It’s a public service project. It’s also a political campaign, and it should be held to the same standards of disclosure that any other campaign would be held to for things like advertising expenditures. Otherwise, we’re just taking Ken Paxton’s word for it that he and his office are doing everything they are supposed to be doing to comply with this ruling that by the way they still intend to appeal because they know they’re the ones in the right. What could possibly go wrong with that? Judge Ramos needs to amend her order to require some spilling of the beans.

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