Last month, Evan Halper of the Los Angeles Times wrote this story about the level of transparency at the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS). In this story, he reports that while CalPERS has hired an outside law firm, "[w]hat exactly CalPERS has ordered the firm to do and how much it is paying for those services are unclear. CalPERS is keeping its contract . . . secret". CalPERS officials reportedly told Mr. Halper that CalPERS' commitment to openness was reflected in its hiring of this firm.
After reading this story, I decided to follow up with a few questions of my own. I called the press office at CalPERS. In general, I asked whether CalPERS had obtained the approval of the Attorney General to hire outside counsel, what the procurement process was, how many times CalPERS had retained this firm, and how much it had paid the firm to review its placement agent activities. I noted that state law, Govt. Code § 11040 et seq., generally prohibits state agencies from using outside counsel without the consent of the California Attorney General. CalPERS asked that I submit my questions in writing. So I did. Some time later, and after a couple of additional prods, I received a letter saying that CalPERS has decided to treat my inquiry as a request for documents under the Public Records Act. I'm still waiting for some answers to some very basic questions. (The Public Records Act, Govt. Code § 6253(c) requires that agencies respond within 10 days - it has now been 20 days since my original request.)
In the meantime, Evan Halper has written another story reporting that CalPERS investment staff received, but did not report, gifts and luxury travel.