Sunshine superheroes - Page 4

Our Freedom of Information Issue salutes the winners of the 2011 James Madison Awards



Small businesses make up 98 percent of all companies in the United States, employing the bulk of the population. But for decades, big, wealthy operations have been the recipients of federal money designed to go to small businesses.

For 20 years, Lloyd Chapman, president of the American Small Business League, has relentlessly worked to wrench from the government documents that reveal the diversion of billions of dollars a year in federal small business contracts to Fortune 500 companies and other large businesses.

Chapman said he entered this line of work "out of necessity," frustrated after watching behemoth defense corporation Lockheed Martin win a small business contract over a legitimate small operation.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, Chapman learned that 600 large businesses were listed in the federal government's small businesses database. He succeeded in prompting a series of investigations and the exposure of billions of dollars in fraud and abuse in federal small business contacting programs. His work has spurred more than 500 news stories.

Chapman says the solution is simple: stop awarding small business contracts to large corporations.

"It's deficit neutral," he says. "No new taxes. Just stop giving contracts to Fortune 500 companies." (Heather Mack)




Last summer, KQED reporter Amy Standen was fishing for a story when she started to uncover some startling information on methyl iodide, a pesticide that was recently approved by California regulators for agricultural use. Standen spoke with an advisory panel of eight scientists about the health risks of methyl iodide and the discrepancy between the exposure levels the state and the scientists believed were safe.

The scientists' anger at the Department of Pesticide Regulation's decision to green light its use prompted Standen to start combing the highly technical documents used in the deliberation process.

"All I was ever doing was to understand, how did this happen?" Standen said.

The DPR, a part of the California Environmental Protection Agency, resisted releasing documents, but Standen kept pushing. "The deliberative process exemption to the California Public Records Act was a particular obstacle," she said. "It was used to exclude exactly the sorts of documents that would have answered the central question: how were those exposure levels reached?"

She eventually was able to review the documents, noting that the opposition to it made "what we did get all the more valuable."

Thanks to the evidence Standen uncovered, showing potential safety risk of exposure to methyl iodide and how the agency rejected the advice of its own scientists, environmental groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the approval. (Carly Nairn)

News Media



November was an especially demanding election season for the four reporters at the Sacramento bureau of the Associated Press. In addition to the reporting on day-to-day activities in the state Capitol, they were charged with making sense of a variety of statewide campaigns. And at the same time, Judy Lin, Don Thompson, Juliet Williams, and Samantha Young worked as team to release a series of remarkable stories on the secretive practices of the state Legislature.

"We made the open records issue and sunshine issues a top priority and [this recognition] is the result of that," Williams said. "Open records and freedom of information are a tenet of journalism and something we strive for all the time."