Californians are entitled to view a wide variety of emails, memos and other records created by their state and local governments. Ask to see who your state lawmaker is emailing, however, and they'll get a two-page canned response that says, in essence, "no way."
Access to public records is considered paramount to maintaining trust in government holding politicians accountable. But California lawmakers wrote themselves out of the 1968 Public Records Act that requires other government officials to release their records when the public asks.
Lawmakers instead apply their own, less transparent law.
The issue has come into focus repeatedly since the Legislative Open Records Act was signed in 1975, but little has changed.
Government transparency laws like those allowing public access to records allow citizens to keep an eye on their government, ensuring politicians are keeping their promises, and deter corruption, said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who serves as president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.
"When people know that they're going to have to tell the public what they're doing, or how they're getting and spending money, or how they're spending their time, then they may think twice before engaging in questionable behavior," Levinson said.
Legislators have long defended their carve-outs as necessary protections for constituents and for maintaining a forum for frank debate in the Legislature.
The Associated Press requested a week's worth of calendar entries and emails for the four top lawmakers in every state and most governors.
In California, officials in Gov. Jerry Brown's office said they release the governor's calendar monthly and declined to provide earlier access to a week of appointments. Brown did not use his official email account during the week requested by the AP, spokesman Evan Westrup said.
The Assembly and Senate Rules committees declined requests for emails and calendars for the top legislative leaders, citing a number of exemptions including privacy and legislative privilege.
California's legislative branch is bound by a less transparent public records law than the Public Records Act, which applies to other government agencies, including the executive branch and local governments.
The Legislative Open Records Act, signed in 1975, exempts from public disclosure all "correspondence of and to individual members of the Legislature and their staff" as well as any communications between private citizens and the Legislature.
In denying the AP's requests, the Rules committees also cited a 1991 California Supreme Court decision that said Gov. George Deukmejian was not required to disclose his calendar. Yet, Brown and his predecessor, as well as other statewide elected officials, regularly release their schedules upon request.
In 2011, three lawmakers told the AP and San Jose Mercury News they would be willing to release their personal meeting calendars, but were prohibited from doing so by the rules committees that control legislative documents. The rule appeared to be extremely rare among state legislatures.
That same year, then-Assembly Speaker John Perez said he'd create a task force to study open-records issues following an uproar over the Assembly's refusal to release lawmakers' office spending records during a feud with another Democratic lawmaker.
The task force does not appear to have ever met, and Perez referred questions about it to the Assembly Rules Committee. Chief Administrator Debra Gravert said she was hired three years later but would research the issue.
"We already did more disclosure than was required by law, and more disclosure than the Senate did," Perez said.