Court Orders Federal Election Commission to Stop Stonewalling Information Requests

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has been ordered by a federal appeals panel to stop misapplying the 20-day rule involving Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.


Under the FOIA statute, federal agencies are required to respond within 20 days of receipt of a government records request, and notify the requester that it will review pertinent documents and reveal what they will and will not hand over and why.


The FEC, however, used a different interpretation of the 20-day rule after the nonprofit watchdog CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) filed an FOIA request for correspondence, calendars, agendas and schedules of commissioners.


FEC officials, supported by the Department of Justice, turned over 835 pages to CREW, but refused to specify what documents were still in its possession, and said it would keep the matter open indefinitely, which they claimed prevented CREW from filing an appeal with an administrative body that handles FOIA matters.


CREW then sued the FEC in federal court. It lost its first court battle, but won a favorable ruling before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.


Judge Brett Kavanaugh said the FEC can no longer employ a Catch-22 rationale to prevent a requester from appealing.


“Although the agency may desire to keep FOIA requests bottled up in limbo for months or years on end, the statute simply does not countenance such a system, as we read the statutory text,” Kavanaugh wrote for the three-judge panel.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Freedom of Information Act's 'Catch 22' Is Kaput (by Adam Klasfeld, Courthouse New Service)

D.C. Circuit Hands CREW A Big Win on FOIA-Why It Matters (by Anne Weismann, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington)

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Federal Election Commission (U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia) (pdf)

Judge Overrules FEC’s Support of Anonymous Campaign Donations (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Federal Election Commission Accused of Deleting Campaign Donor Records from 2008 Election(by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Republican Members of Election Commission Block Disclosure of Campaign Donors (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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