CSR succeeds at stopping CalPERS pension data base
After California State Retirees (CSR) took the lead in calling for legislative hearings regarding pension privacy rights, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) announced Jan. 6 that it will rescind its plan to post on its website the names and pension amounts of 550,000 CalPERS retirees.
In July, CalPERS agreed to postpone the launching of its searchable pension data base when CSR and other retiree organizations argued that public information should only be released upon individual request under the Public Information Act. Posting the pension information of all CalPERS members on a data base would make it easier for solicitors and identity thieves to obtain information, the groups argued.
The Jan. 6 statement released by CalPERS Spokeswoman Rita Gallardo said: "After many discussions with our stakeholders and partners, we have come to better understand their concerns about posting this public information in a secure database on the CalPERS website. Next month CalPERS staff will report to the [CalPERS Board of Administration] that we no longer believe the intended benefits of posting the database on our website outweigh the risks and concerns to our members and that we should not move forward with our previous plans.
“While CalPERS will still comply with [public record requests] as currently required by law, we recognize the concerns of our members and will always strive to protect them and their personal information," according to the statement.
CSR President Tim Behrens said he was gratified that CalPERS officials have grown to understand the concerns of retirees.
The announcement came a few weeks before the chairs of legislative committees dealing with public employee and retiree issues were scheduled to hold hearings regarding the legalities and issues surrounding pension privacy.
“We will no longer seek the legislative hearings as long as CalPERS agrees not to launch the data base,” Behrens said.
In earlier letters to Sen. Jim Beall, the chair of the Senate Public Employees and Retirement Committee, and to Assemblyman Rob Bonta, chair of the Assembly Public Employees and Social Security Committee, Behrens wrote:. “Many of our members are of an advanced age which makes them vulnerable to scams and rip-offs that seek to separate them from their hard-earned pensions and other assets. Releasing their names would make them susceptible to harassing marketers, fraudulent activity and identity theft.”
Behrens said that CSR recognizes that CalPERS member information has been considered public information for some time and that there is indeed some value in providing public access to pension data.
“Nevertheless, we do not believe that it is appropriate to release the name and pension data of every recipient in a searchable data base that could be used to target individual retirees,” Behrens said.
On its website, CalPERS states that it is only required to release information, if asked. When no actual request is made, CSR contends the information should not automatically be put on the CalPERS website, where it is available to everyone – even those who have not formally requested it.
And anyone looking at this information should note that only a small percentage of the money funding pensions comes from the state, Behrens said. Retirees contribute to their pensions all of their working lives and the predominant funding comes from investments made by CalPERS.
Another point that often gets missed in media accounts is that only 2 percent of CalPERS’ 550,000 retirees make over $100,000 a year in retirement. The average state retiree pension is about $26,000 a year.