Kudos, again, to the Mackinac Center for its ongoing efforts to make public records accessible and affordable not only to the Center itself but to the people of Michigan.
This time the abusive public body is the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. <http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=6ea474825112d1aef8c572d68&id=81e6fd3830&e=d7cdb4eea0>.
According to the press release, The Mackinac Center’s Fiscal Policy Director Michael LaFaive visited the LCC offices to do research on an archaic 1933 rule on beer and wine producers and wholesalers called “post and hold.” The rule limits competition and effectively imposes a form of government-facilitated price collusion.
Michigan’s “post” rule requires manufacturers and wholesalers to submit product price changes to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission; a “hold” rule then prohibits them from changing that price for a particular length of time that varies by product. The result is a form of legal price collusion in which firms can coordinate pricing with their “competition.”
The “hold” period for beer is 180 days; for wine it is three months, with exceptions only allowed upon a written order of the commission.
See an earlier story about the issue at <http://mackinac.us1.list-manage.com/track/click?u=6ea474825112d1aef8c572d68&id=90bde29c4f&e=d7cdb4eea0>.
LaFaive was told that 2 1/2 months’ worth of data he wanted already existed on a spreadsheet and that he could have that data if he could provide a USB flash drive.
He did and filed a FOIA request. The request was granted but with an unexpected price tag of $1,550.22. A 50 percent deposit was required before the MLCC would proceed. The charges included $50.22 for 1.5 hours of an employee’s time (an hourly rate of $33.48) for “locating and duplicating” the requested data, and $1,500 for copying 6,000 pages at 25 cents per page (that’s 15 cents a page more than the amended state FOIA will allow beginning July 1). Even worse, LaFaive had specifically requested the data be put on a flash drive that he would provide.
One of the most vexing parts of the LCC’s response is the public data LaFaive wanted was already compiled. No additional work except for copying the data onto the flash drive was required which would take a matter of seconds yet the LCC wanted to charge an exorbitant fee to provide the public records requested. And that is not allowed under the law.
This is an example that citizens often face when they seek public records and the public body knows it ha to provide them but doesn’t want, too. One way to discourage requests is to charge a lot to fulfill them.
The Mackinac Center opted not pay the 50 percent deposit and instead filed a lawsuit. The Center is also asking for attorney fees and damages. The Mackinac Center is a frequent user of the state’s FOIA most recently winning a settlement from the City of Westland last year.