Archives for September 2014

Cause of Action Defeats Treasury IG Tax Office in FOIA Lawsuit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                           CONTACT:      

September 30, 2014                                                Mary Beth Hutchins, 202-400-2721

Cause of Action Defeats Treasury IG Tax Office in FOIA Lawsuit

Court Rules that TIGTA Must Process FOIA Request Regarding Investigations Into

Tax Records Improperly Shared with the President

WASHINGTON –The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled Monday that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) must process an October 9, 2012 Cause of Action Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking documents about investigations into unauthorized disclosures of taxpayer information to the Executive Office of the President.

Cause of Action’s Executive Director Dan Epstein said:

The court has ruled that the federal government cannot hide behind confidentiality laws to prevent Americans from knowing if our President has gained unauthorized access to their tax information. This is a decisive win for all Americans and for government transparency and accountability. The public already knows the President uses FOIA to shield his targeting of the press and this ruling prevents the President from using FOIA to shield his targeting of taxpayers.

Under section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code, tax returns and taxpayer return information are to be kept confidential. An unauthorized disclosure under 6103, even if to the President, is not only a prosecutable offense, but warrants a prompt investigation by TIGTA. Cause of Action’s request sought information as to what confidential taxpayer information was being reviewed by the White House. In an unprecedented decision, the court determined that 6103 does not authorize the government to shield such information under an exemption to FOIA and that TIGTA’s investigations are not themselves confidential. This victory for transparency forces the agency to process documents in response to Cause of Action’s FOIA request that could show the White House accessed tax return information illegally.

Read the full decision from the court here.

About Cause of Action:

Cause of Action is a non-profit, nonpartisan government accountability organization that fights to protect economic opportunity when federal regulations, spending and cronyism threaten it. For more information, visit

To schedule an interview with Cause of Action’s Executive Director Dan Epstein, contact Mary Beth Hutchins,



Statement for the Record: Hearing on “The IRS Targeting Scandal: Changing Stories of Missing E-Mails”

Cause of Action submitted a Statement for the Record to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation and Regulatory Affairs. The hearing was on “The IRS Targeting Scandal: Changing Stories of Missing E-Mails.”

2014 9 17 Statement for the Record by Cause of Action

Washington Examiner: Watchdogs challenge Obama to review ‘White House equities’ impact on FOIA

Read the full story: Washington Examiner

Cause of Action, the Project on Government Oversight and the Sunlight Foundation were among the 24 organizations that joined the call for the Obama administration to review the Craig Memorandum and either withdraw it or clearly define “White House equities” to prevent overreach.


Cause of Action has also sued a dozen federal departments claiming their adherence to the Craig Memorandum violates the FOIA.

The Seattle Times: Editorial: Commercial photography rule makes the Forest Service look bad

Read the full story: The Seattle Times

The government watchdog group Cause of Action is suing a dozen federal agencies for allegedly allowing the White House to conduct politically tinged screenings of public-records requests. Just last week, it was revealed that the White House even seeks to censor the mundane daily “pool” reports, which are the equivalent of an Obama’s official Fitbit log of public activities.


No wonder an obscure proposed federal rule started a First Amendment wildfire, especially in the Pacific Northwest, where the government plays a large role due to the amount of federal land here.


The Forest Service is still taking public comment on it. Let ’em have it. The Obama administration, rightly called the greatest threat to press freedom in a generation, deserves it.

Coalition of Open Government Groups Confront President Obama On Policy that Frustrates Transparency

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                            CONTACT:      

September 29, 2014                                            Mary Beth Hutchins, 202-400-2721

Coalition of Open Government Groups Confront President Obama

On Policy that Frustrates Transparency

25 Groups Ask President to Withdraw or Clarify Memorandum Instructing Agencies to Consult with White House on Document Releases

WASHINGTON – A coalition of 25 transparency groups and open government advocates sent a letter to President Obama today urging him to either “withdraw” or “provide guidance to agencies” on a 2009 White House Counsel memorandum that instructs all federal agencies to consult with White House attorneys on documents of interest to the Administration before releasing them.

Sent by then-White House Counsel Gregory Craig, the memorandum requires federal agencies to consult with the White House Counsel’s Office on any document request that may involve records implicating “White House equities.” An undefined term that allows the White House to affect agency decision-making over the release of documents, “White House equities” appears to refer to any interest the administration might have in agency records. “White House equities” consultation already delayed the release, and allowed for improper Executive branch review, of documents to numerous requesters, including members of the media, Congress, and the public.

Executive Director Dan Epstein of Cause of Action, a government oversight organization, which recently sued a dozen cabinet agencies for documents regarding “White House equities,” said:

Public promises of transparency are no excuse for secret memos that prevent it. Americans deserve a government that is fair and open and delaying the release of documents prevents the ability of a free press to educate the public. Our hope is that President Obama honors the laws in place designed to provide transparency, such as the Freedom of Information Act, and withdraws this 2009 memo.

Executive Director of Dr. Patrice McDermott said:

To put it simply, ‘White House equities’ is not a well-defined term. Not surprisingly, a policy based around protecting an ill-defined term can sow confusion among agency officials and the public, and make it very hard to know exactly the effect of the policy. In the interest of the unprecedented levels of openness in government committed to by the President, the White House needs to review this policy, and send agencies any additional guidance if needed.

The full list of signatories:

American Library Association

Brechner Center for Freedom of Information

Cause of Action

Center for Effective Government

Defending Dissent Foundation

Electronic Privacy Information Center – EPIC

Essential Information

Government Accountability Project – GAP

James Madison Project


National Security Archive

National Security Counselors

Northern California Association of Law Libraries

National Freedom of Information Center

PEN American Center

Project On Government Oversight – POGO

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility – PEER

Society of Professional Journalists

Special Libraries Association

The Sunlight Foundation

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse – TRAC

Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University

Washington Coalition for Open Government

Individual signatories (additional information for identification purposes only):

Mark Tapscott, Executive Editor, Washington Examiner

The letter can be found here.

About Cause of Action:

Cause of Action is a non-profit, nonpartisan government accountability organization that fights to protect economic opportunity when federal regulations, spending and cronyism threaten it. For more information, visit

About is a coalition of good- and limited- government groups, environmentalists, journalists, library and consumer groups, labor, and others united to make the federal government a more open place in order to ensure integrity and accountability in the operation of our governing institutions, foster confidence in representative government, and support our democratic principles. Our coalition transcends partisan lines and includes progressives, libertarians, and conservatives.

To schedule an interview with Cause of Action’s Executive Director Dan Epstein, contact Mary Beth Hutchins,



Lessons for the Next Attorney General

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is resigning after five-and-a-half years in the Obama administration. Despite Cause of Action raising the following concerns to the Department of Justice (DOJ) during Attorney General Holder’s tenure, here are four DOJ failures that Cause of Action hopes the next Attorney General would ensure the agency corrects:

  1. Cause of Action asked DOJ to take the claims of IRS targeting seriously, but the available evidence suggests a failure to conduct a full and fair investigation.
  2. The IRS appears to have violated the Federal Records Act (and possibly other laws) by losing or deleting Lois Lerner’s emails, but DOJ has given no indication that it will investigate the email destruction in any meaningful way.
  3. Cause of Action provided DOJ with evidence of up to $150 million in fraud at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) in May 2012.  When given the opportunity to intervene and recover taxpayer dollars under the False Claims Act, DOJ declined.  Cause of Action is continuing to pursue this fraud lawsuit against the CTA because American taxpayers deserve accountability.  DOJ retains the ability to intervene, despite its initial failure to do so.
  4. On March 19, 2009, AG Holder issued a memo on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) stating: “In the face of doubt, openness prevails.”  Despite this proclamation, Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee says the transparency of the Obama administration “is significantly worse than previous administrations.”  Cause of Action’s own investigation found that improper White House review of FOIA requests violated both the letter and spirit of FOIA. In fact, DOJ is one of twelve agencies Cause of Action is suing for allowing the White House to obstruct the processing of FOIA requests.

Washington Examiner: Earmarks never went away — they changed addresses

Read the full story: Washington Examiner

According to the government watchdog group Cause of Action, which launched a website in early September dedicated to exposing executive earmarks, federal grant spending has jumped 40 percent since 2001.


Cause of Action began investigating executive branch earmarks in December 2011, when the group sent Freedom of Information Act requests to 21 different agencies to track down discretionary grants.


Hundreds of letters resulting from the organization’s probe and compiled on its new website reveal a pattern of funding requests that echo the language once found in legislative earmarks.


The Cause of Action website features a digital timeline of milestones in earmarking’s evolution, including Executive Order 13457, “Protecting American Taxpayers from Government Spending on Wasteful Earmarks,” which President George W. Bush signed in 2008.