It Took a FOIA Lawsuit to Uncover How the Obama Administration Killed FOIA Reform

Vice News, By Jason Leopold, March 9

The Obama administration has long called itself the most transparent administration in history. But newly released Department of Justice (DOJ) documents show that the White House has actually worked aggressively behind the scenes to scuttle congressional reforms designed to give the public better access to information possessed by the federal government.

The documents were obtained by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports journalism in the public interest, which in turn shared them exclusively with VICE News. They were obtained using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) — the same law Congress was attempting to reform. The group sued the DOJ last December after its FOIA requests went unanswered for more than a year.

The documents confirm longstanding suspicions about the administration’s meddling, and lay bare for the first time how it worked to undermine FOIA reform bills that received overwhelming bipartisan support and were unanimously passed by both the House and Senate in 2014 — yet were never put up for a final vote.

Moreover, a separate set of documents obtained by VICE News in response to a nearly two-year-old FOIA request provides new insight into how the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also tried to disrupt Congress’s FOIA reform efforts, which would have required those agencies to be far more transparent when responding to records requests.

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  • I’m sure under the open, transparent and honest administration of Hilary Clinton all such items accidentally overlooked in the Obama administration will be remedied immediately.

  • Speaking of hiding stuff – excerpts from a Letter To the Editor (NYT)
    Shedding Light on Dark Money
    Ira Glasser – (retired Executive Director ACLU)
    William Josephson – (former Asst Atty General in charge of Charities Bureau, NYS)

    Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code was established many years ago to exempt electoral advocacy organizations from federal income tax on their contribution revenue. But large gifts to such 527 groups had to be disclosed.

    To avoid such disclosure after Citizens United ruled it constitutional — this was the origin of the explosion of dark money – hyperwealthy donors like the Koch brothers fled 527 organizations, contributing instead to favored 501(c)(4) organizations.

    The Internal Revenue Code has also always required by statute that 501(c)(4) activities and expenditures be devoted exclusively to various “social welfare” activities [ ] and that gifts in excess of the annual federal gift tax exemption amount (now $14,000) be subject to a gift tax, to be borne by the donor. These two requirements should have made it difficult for the Koch brothers and others to shift their huge gifts from 527 groups to 501(c)(4) groups.

    But the I.R.S. has long vacillated and ultimately failed to collect the gift tax. It has also further violated the statute by administratively redefining the requirement that 501(c)(4) groups operate exclusively as social welfare groups to permit them only primarily to do so, in effect allowing such groups to use more than 49 percent of their contributed income for electoral speech.

    Then Congress [ ] barred the I.R.S. from spending its current appropriation to rectify this mess. Thus it has been the I.R.S., and now Congress, that has been the cause of dark money, not the Supreme Court and not Citizens United.

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