Eye sore: Eye on Sacramento fights council member’s requests for its donors list

Councilman Jay Schenirer backs off after group that has criticized City Hall threatens lawsuit

A government watchdog group has threatened to sue the city of Sacramento after Councilman Jay Schenirer requested to see a list of its members and donors.

Paul Nicholas Boylan, an attorney representing Eye on Sacramento, said that Schenirer’s demands stemmed from a desire to retaliate against the group’s criticisms of City Hall, according to a November 13 letter to the council member.

Boylan wrote that asking a private nonprofit to upend the confidentiality of its members and donors was unlawful and violated their free speech rights.

“Neither you nor the City have the right to access EOS’ membership and donor lists any more than you and/or the City have the right to access the Sacramento Bee’s list of subscribers/readers or learn the identities of confidential news sources—and for the exact same reasons: confidentiality encourages free speech that informs the public and electorate, whereas lack of confidentiality discourages the exercise of constitutional rights vital to democracy,” Boylan wrote in the letter.

The letter asserted that EOS wouldn’t release the lists, and warned that it would sue if any backlash from the city came of it. Boylan also threatened legal action if the city did not respond to a public records request asking for proof that the same demands were made to any other nonprofit in the past.

Assistant City Attorney Matt Ruyak told SN&R on Monday that the city would respond.

Schenirer’s chief of staff, Joseph Devlin, told SN&R the city wouldn’t press EOS further for the lists. He also said that, to his knowledge, no previous request for donor or member lists from nonprofits had ever been made in the past.

Additionally, Devlin called EOS’ response “disproportionate” to what he characterized as an innocent request for context from Schenirer.

“I think it’s important for a decision maker to have an understanding of who’s before them,” he said. “Is this someone who’s representing 10,000 Sacramento voters or expressing the opinion of one person?”

Eye on Sacramento, founded in 2011 and run by Craig Powell, a local attorney and landlord, has regularly appeared before the council over the years. In the past, the group has advocated against the expansion of the Sacramento Convention Center and the Measure B transportation tax, which fell short of passing last week. Powell said the dispute with Schenirer began in July, when EOS publicly expressed concerns over a new proposal for the convention center.

The group also lobbied in favor of Measure L, which did pass. The initiative creates an independent redistricting commission that will take the power of redrawing electoral maps away from council members affected by the results. Measure L was advocated on a platform of bringing transparency to city politics.

“This is just a request for transparency, which is slightly ironic,” Devlin said.