On June 11, faculty and staff at Kutztown University and other PASSHE campuses received email notification that the anti-union activist, Simon Campbell, is filing an appeal to gain access to the home addresses of university employees who asked that their addresses be excluded from Campbell’s original records request from April 15, 2015. If an employee still wants to prevent the release of their home address, they will now have to prove that releasing their home addresses will result in a “substantial and demonstrable risk” of physical harm or personal security.
Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know law provides very few privacy protections for a wide range of public employees. Here’s how Kutztown University’s Right-to-Know officer, Gerald Silberman, explained the law to faculty and staff: :
I am writing to advise you that Kutztown University received a Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) request for the home addresses of all Kutztown University employees. The request was made by Pennsylvanians for Union Reform. With limited exceptions, home addresses of Kutztown employees (except for our law enforcement officers) are public records subject to disclosure.An exception that possibly protects your home address from being released is codified in the RTKL and has been recognized by the Pennsylvania courts, and is based upon your “personal security.” That exception is stated as follows:A record that disclosure of which would be reasonably likely to result in a substantial and demonstrable risk of physical harm to or the personal security of an individual. 65 P.S. §67.708(b)(1)(ii).
As Raging Chicken Press originally reported, this most recent request for the home addresses of all employees at Kutztown University and several other PASSHE universities, is part of the modus operandi of a new breed of well-funded, right-wing organizations seeking to gum up the workings of government and to cost progressive organizations and unions time and money responding to often frivolous lawsuits and records requests.
If you listened to our “Raging Monday” segment last week on the Rick Smith Show, you know that Campbell’s latest appeal went well beyond demanding access to every employees home address. His appeal went out of the way to single out and harass yours truly.
RAGING MONDAY! – Rick Smith Show | June 15, 2015
As a way of proving that anyone could get to me if they really wanted to, Campbell sent a registered letter to my home address. He included a copy of the registered letter along with a one-page, addendum titled “Professor ‘Raging Chicken Press’ Kevin Mahoney: A Case Study in Juvenile Antics.” Apparently, I am the only person who has been targeted in this way, apparently because I spoke out against his attempts to stockpile public employee addresses for whatever games he wants to play. It is one thing for a journalist to submit right-to-know requests in an attempt to investigate a story; it is quite another to for right-wing organizations to use gaping holes in a state’s right-to-know laws to hoard personal home addresses for targeted political harassment.
Here at Raging Chicken Press, we are well aware of the importance of good right-to-know laws so that we – journalists and citizens – can keep an eye on our government, to serve as a check to power, and to hold public officials accountable to their word. In a democracy, we need laws that ensure that our government represents us and not a handful of billionaires, for example. That is one thing. It is quite another for the State to aid and abet political and personal harassment.
We’ve got a couple things going on here that all of us are going to need to decide in the pretty near future. First, in an age in which more and more of our personal data is being mined by corporations and the government, will we as a society willingly forfeit any right to privacy? It is true that you can track down a whole lot of information about people on the Internet–especially if you are willing to pay for it. However, just because you can find out lots of personal information about people, it doesn’t mean that you should be able to. It is true that the availability of our personal information has outpaced our laws and regulations. And that’s the challenge for all of us: will we demand a reasonable right to privacy? This latest political stunt by a noted anti-union hack is just a small blip on a bigger screen. When each of us as individuals are faced with handing over our personal information, will we throw up our hands and submit because “there is nothing we can do?” Or, will we say “no, enough is enough!”
Second, will we put an end to billionaire-funded front groups exploiting our laws and political processes for their own gain; or, will we allow what’s left of our democracy to slip away under the cover of dark money? We shall see.
The one thing that I am convinced of is that if we fail to stand up and take our democracy back from the billionaire-funded front groups and hacks, we can expect more of the kind of political harassment we see in “Professor ‘Raging Chicken Press’ Kevin Mahoney: A Case in Juvenile Antics.” If that’s OK with you, well, good luck to you. For the rest of us, we’ve got work to do.
The political season is gearing up, for sure. While everyone’s attention is focused on the 2016 presidential election, we’ve got a pretty important election coming up this fall. For the first time in history, Pennsylvanians will elect three State Supreme Court justices in one election. That’s the very court that will be charged with making some of the biggest decisions affecting our lives for the coming generation – including the right to privacy, the right to organize and form unions, and the right of citizens to make local laws governing how their natural resources will be used. The stage is set for an unprecedented amount of money to flood the campaign coffers of judicial candidates, especially given that we are now living in post-Citizens United world. Here’s how the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described the upcoming race:
The confluence of an unprecedented number of vacancies on the 2015 ballot and a national arms race in spending in judicial contests brings the prospect of the most tumultuous and expensive election cycle in the court’s long history.
“It’s going to be a huge money race, that’s for sure,” said Rob Gleason, the state Republican chairman.
Pointing to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that loosed the strictures on corporate spending in politics, Lynn Marks, the executive director for Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said, “The combination of the post-Citizens United era, the unprecedented number of Supreme Court seats available and the focus on the courts because of the recent problems is just the perfect storm for record amounts of money.”
Three high court seats, the largest number ever at stake in one election in the state, will be on the primary and general election ballots.
“It’ll be a sea change on the court regardless of who gets elected,’ Ms. Marks predicted.
So, batten down the hatches — or organize to reclaim our democracy. That seems to be the choice we face going forward.