• Swamp Watch

Louisiana's Least Transparent State Agency

Louisiana's Office of Financial Institutions has unusually broad exemptions from public records laws.

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor describes Louisiana's public record law as "designed to ensure unfettered access to documents and to implement the inherent right of the public to be reasonably informed as to what public records contain and the manner, basis, and reasons upon which governmental affairs are conducted, while at the same time balancing the right of the public against the necessity for the custodian of public records to act in the public interest."

One state agency with broad regulatory authority, however, is completely shielded from disclosing any records- The Governor's Office of Financial Institutions (OFI), which regulates banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions in Louisiana. With statutory exemptions aimed at protecting sensitive information from the industry and firms it regulates, OFI weaponizes its exemptions to the extreme to prevent disclosure of even standard communications within the office and among its staff.

During the most recent legislative session, OFI employees, including Commissioner Stanley Dameron, were omnipresent in the Capitol, testifying "for information purposes only", on several pieces of legislation dealing with issues ranging from occupational licensing reform, financial technology, and credit access loans. When testifying on this wide range of bills, OFI had a similar refrain: any innovative reform would over-burden the office, and they would need additional staff and funding.

With 111 employees spread out across 7 offices, according to their own reporting, we were curious to know what discussions had taken place within the office about several of the pieces of legislation they testified on and what specific impacts they were concerned about on their large staff.

On May 3, we submitted a request to the OFI Custodians of Records for "all OFI Communications" on just 2 bills they testified on, and on May 5 received a response, which you can see below. The response stated that "we have no public records to submit in response to your request. The Louisiana Legislature has expressly mandated that all records of OFI shall be kept strictly confidential, are deemed privileged communications, and not subject to subpoena or other legal process...Records of OFI are confidential, not public records, and not subject to disclosure or legal process except in accordance with R.S. 6:103...Therefore, we have no publicly available information to provide in response to your request."

Despite having 3 Custodians of Records, OFI refuses to release the most basic form of public record- communication between public officials, in a public agency, on how proposed legislation would affect their 111 employees, claiming they are "privileged" communications. This flies in the face of the intent of Louisiana public records laws, and of the exemptions granted to OFI. When the Governor's text messages with his State Police Colonel are subject to release under a public records request, one would expect e-mails between state employees about proposed legislation would be as well- perhaps making OFI Louisiana's least-transparent state agency.