In May 2017, we kicked off the Wyoming Transparency Project by filing 1,600 open records requests with all 800 units of government across the state. The project is comprised of two requests: 1. Public employee salaries; and 2. Checkbook vendor transactions.
Our mission is to post "Every Dime, Online, In Real Time," accounting taxpayer dollars spent at every level of government in Wyoming: federal, state and local.
Citizens, journalists, watchdogs and challengers to the incumbent political class deserve to see where every dime is spent. Wyoming received an "F" in transparency from the Center of Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., and our objective is to improve the state’s grade to an "A."
On November 8, 2017, Governor Matt Mead hosted the Hall of Fame Dinner at the Dynamics of Change Conference sponsored by the Wyoming Business Alliance and Heritage Foundation in Cheyenne. As the keynote speaker, OpenTheBooks CEO and Founder Adam Andrzejewski helped educate the 400 guests on the importance of transparency and the status of our transparency project.
Beginning in May 2017, our data capture team at OpenTheBooks.com sent 3,087 emails, 654 pieces of regular mail through the U.S. Post Office, and made 1,100 telephone calls in an effort to open the books on all state and municipal level units of government. With determination, this phase of our project spanned a six-month period from May through October 2017.
We successfully captured 33,000 public employee salary records
from 105 units of government the Wyoming state government. Additionally, 145 units of local government produced 500,000 individual checkbook transactions
The University of Wyoming is now the largest unit of government in the state to release both their public employee salaries and vendor checkbook spending. Furthermore, we captured
all 13,000 federal employees based in Wyoming with their salaries and bonuses. We also captured
all federal checkbook spending into the state since 2001, including contracts, grants, direct payments, loans, insurance, and farm subsidies. We display all of this data on our traditional website and our award winning ‘Open The Books’ mobile app
(free for Apple and Android users).
In June 2017, State Auditor Cynthia Cloud’s office rejected our request for the checkbook vendor spending checkbook – a FOIA request we also filed in 2015 and 2016. We collect state expenditures from 47 of 50 state governments and believe the state auditor’s office violated the law in the rejection of our request.
In January 2018, we threatened litigation. We published
our demand letter on the front page of the Sunday newspaper at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. This caused the auditor to drop her public objection.
Over the past three years, Cloud and Deputy State Auditor Sandy Urbanek made some ridiculous claims to hide state spending. Here are just a few of those claims:
It’s an "undue burden." False. The auditor argues on her website
that transparency is a top priority of her office. Well, a top priority can’t be an undue burden.
It’ll take "years and years" for checkbook production. False. In 2016, we found
the auditor contracted for a $63-million accounting software package. How fast do you think this software can produce a basic line-by-line checkbook?
It’s "private Information." False. The addresses of state vendors are not private information as initially claimed
by the auditor. Government vendor data is public information in all 50 states and at the federal level.
The records are "purged." False. When we narrowed our checkbook request to what’s posted on the auditor’s ‘transparency’ website, she rejected
the request saying the records were purged. Wouldn’t that violate Wyoming record destruction statutes?
In February 2018, Cloud’s office made us refile our open records request for the state checkbook then charged us $8,000 to produce it. With the help of the Wyoming Equality Taxpayers organization and their chairman Bill Doenz, we paid the draconian fee.
Now, on June 8, 2018, it’s been 15 weeks since we filed our newest request for the state checkbook. We demanded record production on a rolling basis. So far, we’ve received just 12 days of state spending records even though we paid to receive records for 1,300 work days (5 years).
Update: November 27, 2018
Does the law exist only for us in the private sector? Does government get to ignore the law?
In the summer of 2015, our organization at OpenTheBooks.com filed 326 open records requests with every public body on Long Island, New York. Over an 18-month period, it was a knock-down drag-out fight to preserve our right to transparency regarding basic financial information including public employee salaries and the public body’s vendor checkbook spending. Eventually, six lawsuits were filed, each one was successful, and fees were awarded by the courts. It has been two years, and all 326 local governments now comply with open records law.
In Wyoming, however, our experience has been the worst.
In 2017, our organization filed public records requests with all 800 public bodies in Wyoming for their public employee salaries and checkbook vendor spending. Just 105 governments produced a responsive record on salaries, and only 145 governments released their checkbook expenditures.
In 2018, our experience has been dramatically worse. In total, 85 governments produced salaries and 76 governments produced vendor-spending checkbooks. In 2017, just five school districts out of 48 sent us their salary file. Now, 23 schools want to charge us fees up to $2,000!
Although salaries are currently a ‘public record’ under existing Wyoming law, the Wyoming Retirement System has denied our open records request. The trustees passed an in-house resolution barring the release of member information.
Although pension annuity payouts are currently a ‘public record’ under existing Wyoming law, the Wyoming Retirement System has denied our open records request. The trustees flout existing law by passing in-house resolutions barring the release of member information.
It’s worth repeating: Does Wyoming law only apply to us in the private sector? Does Wyoming government get to ignore the law?
After our keynote speech at the Dynamics of Change dinner at the state capitol, we wrote an editorial
published at the Casper Star Tribune
in Casper, Wyoming on December 1, 2017. The editorial was re-published across the state in other newspapers. This editorial was entitled "Transparency Before Taxes."
On January 16, 2018, CBS KGWC Channel 14
aired our live interview
on the 6pm evening news. The segment put State Auditor Cynthia Cloud on notice that we were prepared to file litigation to begin the process of enforcing open records law.
• On January 17, 2018, the Wyoming Press Association extended an invitation to address their annual conference in Casper for a 90-minute presentation. During this presentation, we announced our intent to provide all journalists with free access to our data warehouse. We only imposed one condition: to publish at least one story a month and cite us properly as the data source. Our presentation was well received by the journalists.
On January 24, 2018, journalist Joel Funk authored the front page news story
in the Sunday edition of the Wyoming Eagle Tribune
, in Cheyenne, entitled, "Potential Legal Action Against Wyoming State Over Records." This news article re-published in major newspapers across the state.
On May 29, 2018, the WyoFile
published an article
titled, "Records request for 800 Wyo. Agencies drives open records review," citing our work and telling the story of our Wyoming Transparency Project.
On May 30, 2018, the Casper Star Tribune
reporter Andrew Graham published an article
titled, "Records request to 800 agencies sparks law review." The article explained our 800 records requests that have sparked review of public records law by the Wyoming legislature. On May 31, 2018, the Gillette News Record
also republished the article titled, "Records request to 800 agencies sparks law review."
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)
QUESTION: Is the State Auditor having difficulty providing the state checkbook because of Medicare payments or because it’s difficult to scrub transactions out from the other payments?
ANSWER: No. The redaction of Medicare/Medicaid payments is not a reason to slow-walk production pursuant to our open records request for state expenditures. We designed our request to be simple, straightforward, and easy to provide production.
We’ve only asked for information previously published by the state auditor on her own website (already scrubbed, publicly posted information) and, separately, a list of state vendors. The auditor already scrubbed the state expenditures that she posts online every 90 days. Further, state vendor information is very easy to produce.
Review our request for the Wyoming state checkbook here
. This language was negotiated with the Wyoming Attorney General (2/28/2018).
Our request is comprised of two separate parts: 1. An electronic copy of the cached information from the state auditor’s vendor payment website from January 1, 2013 to January 1, 2018; and 2. The state vendor list from January 1, 2013 through January 1, 2018. Production shall include an electronic copy of any and all vendor name; vendor address; vendor city; vendor state name; and vendor zip code. A ‘vendor’ is defined as ‘a transfer of property or service recipient,’ but does not include non-public information such as state employee addresses, payments under HIPPA, etc.
QUESTION: How many states does Openthebooks.com have comprehensive data on checkbook expenditures for? Is Wyoming among these states?
ANSWER: At OpenTheBooks.com, we have built the largest private database of government spending in the world - that is accessible to the public. Our data is comprised of 15 million public employee salary and pension records; 47 of 50 state checkbooks; and nearly all disclosed federal spending on contracts, grants, direct payments, loans, insurance and farm subsidies since 2001 or earlier.
Since May 2017, we requested public employee salaries and government checkbook spending from every public body in Wyoming. We had a lot of success with 145 colleges, municipalities, counties, etc. complying with our request. In fact, the University of Wyoming (UW) is the largest unit of government in the state to comply with both our public salary and checkbook request. UW disclosed 9,300 public employee salaries and 14,000 vendors.
In 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, we've requested Wyoming state checkbook expenditures from State Auditor Cynthia Cloud, and her office rejected all of our open records requests. We tried to narrow our request to a listing of state vendors – but she rejected this as well.
We have not asked Auditor Cloud to lead on transparency – we are simply asking her to follow the law.
QUESTION: What records has Openthebooks.com requested from the Wyoming State Auditor’s office? What led to the request?
ANSWER: We want to know who (by name) received how much, for what service. We’ve asked for simple checkbook accounting of state expenditures.
The mission of OpenTheBooks.com is to post "Every Dime, Online, In Real Time." We've successfully captured $80 of every $100 taxed and spent at every level of government – federal, state and local – across America, and we plan to complete our objective over the next 18-24 months. Since May 2017, the goal of our Wyoming Transparency Project is to take Wyoming from an "F" in transparency to an "A" in transparency. It's time to follow the money. Citizens, journalists, watchdogs, and challengers to the incumbent political class need to see exactly where every dime of their tax dollar goes. Remember, it's our money. It is time hold the political class accountable for tax and spend decisions.
QUESTION: Why are these records important from a transparency perspective?
ANSWER: In God we trust, our politicians we must audit. Historically, the only politicians that resist our transparency effort have been folks with something to hide. It's a big red flag for our organization when one of our open records requests is rejected or slow-walked. Our request for the state checkbook is a very basic financial record, showing who received how much and for what service. The fact that Auditor Cloud admitted that producing a clean checkbook would take "years" is very embarrassing. Citizens have a constitutional duty to give oversight to their elected officials. If all state expenditures are shielded, then we the people have no ability to exercise our rights.
QUESTION: Did you request the address, state, and zip code of each vendor that has received funds from the state of Wyoming? Was it provided to you? Why is this important?
ANSWER: For three years, the auditor rejected all of our requests regarding state expenditures, even for the names and addresses of state vendors. The mailing address for state vendors is not a private record. We need this record in order to map state expenditures and find out answers to important questions of public policy, i.e. how much state spending flows to vendors based in other states or countries. Even locally, we want to know what counties or cities within Wyoming primarily benefit from state spending.
Finally, in February 2018, through intercession from the Office of the Wyoming Attorney General, the auditor agreed to provide a listing of state vendors complete with their names and addresses.
We get federal vendor address information from all federal agencies because of the 2006 "Google Your Government" Act, co-sponsored by then Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Barack Obama (D-IL). At OpenTheBooks.com, we are able to hyper-localize the checkbook spending in our award-winning mobile app called Open the Books (free for download for Apple and Android). You can actually see the federal checkbook spending flowing into your ZIP in a one to 50-mile radius or look up a vendor by name.
In our app and on our website, for example, we display 33,000 public employee salaries from 105 units of local, regional and state government by employer ZIP code. So, citizens can see who makes how much for what job title.
We use the latest technology to slice, dice, and display government spending. Auditor Cloud is aware of our technologies, and we believe she is trying to forestall our transparency revolution in Wyoming.
QUESTION: What can’t Openthebooks.com find on the auditor’s public transparency website that is important? Is the site useful for a view of comprehensive, full transparency?
ANSWER: The auditor's "transparency website" allows her to make the claim of transparency without being transparent. It's rhetoric without results. For example, the auditor's website only shows payments over a rolling 90-day period. It doesn't answer basic questions such as "how much money did XY vendor receive last year?" Furthermore, after 90 days, the auditor actually claims to "purge" the data, despite the state records retention policy guarding against public record destruction.
QUESTION: Is OpenTheBooks.com planning to take legal action in this matter?
ANSWER: Since 2015, our sole goal is to capture and post online a clean copy of state expenditures. We hope the auditor provides a responsive record to our open records request without litigation. It shouldn't take a search warrant or a subpoena to force open state checkbook expenditures in Wyoming.
Since we paid a nearly $8,000 fee for the records, and during a 16-week period have received only 12-days of state spending, we issued a demand letter
on June 14, 2018, setting a deadline of July 15, 2018 for complete record production.
QUESTION: What types of public frauds or taxpayer abuse has been uncovered in Wyoming public bodies?
From the Wyoming Department of Audit report on cities and towns, link to report here
- In the Town of Mills, cash payments were stolen from utility customers, the town’s credit card was abused, and over $60,000 was embezzled over a three-year period.
- In the Town of Kirby, the town’s credit card was used to make purchases for the clerk’s cosmetics business and other personal items. The town lost over $10,000.
- In the City of Rawlins, the treasurer was able to generate fictitious payroll checks to herself, with over $225,000 stolen.
- In Sheridan County, falsified daily reports were made to match the cash sheet and deposit slip, concealing over $110,000.
- The Uinta County Conservation District had a clerk who forged checks to herself. She was sentenced to restitution and probation. A few years later, she once again forged checks at Sublette County Mosquito Abatement #2.
- The Star Valley Senior Center had an employee issue additional paychecks without authorization and cashed checks for personal use. The damage was for over $123,000.
- The Town of Rolling Hills saw the town’s credit card used for personal use. Direct bills were signed for personal items with the town ultimately paying for them. Signatures were forged on town’s checks. $125,000 was lost.
- In the Town of Guernsey, money was taken improperly, and the clerk was ultimately charged with Income Tax evasion. The clerk was charged with not paying taxes on $275,000 of stolen funds.
These frauds are just a sample of those identified by the Department of Audit (DOA) through audits or by law enforcement who asked the DOA for assistance in their investigations in the past twenty years.
Today, OpenTheBooks.com is the largest private repository of U.S. public-sector spending. With Honorary Chairman Dr. Tom Coburn,OpenTheBooks.com has one ultimate goal: post "every dime, online, in real time." To date, OpenTheBooks.com has captured 4 billion government-spending records, including nearly all disclosed federal government spending since 2000; 47 of 50 state checkbooks; and 16 million public employee salary and pension records across America.
OpenTheBooks.com exposed the $20 million luxury-art procurement program at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which forced a public apology from the V.A. Secretary and the adoption of new rules to stop the abuse (2016). The group found 63,000 highly compensated Illinois public employees earned $100,000 costing taxpayers $10 billion (2017). Recently, OpenTheBooks launched Mapping the Swamp - an interactive mapping platform displaying 2 million federal bureaucrats by employer ZIP code across America.
The group's aggressive transparency and forensic auditing of government spending has led to the assembly of grand juries, indictments, successful prosecutions, congressional briefings and hearings, subpoenas, and Government Accountability Office (GAO) audits, administrative policy changes, federal legislation, and much more.