Archives for 2016

If the Government Wants to Monitor Fishermen, the Government Should Pay

CoA Institute files opening brief in appeal of decision to force costs of at-sea monitors on struggling fishermen

Washington D.C. – Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) has filed its opening brief in an appeal of the district court’s decision that fishermen should be forced to pay for their own at-sea monitors. CoA Institute is representing New Hampshire fisherman David Goethel and a group of Northeast fishermen in the case against the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In July, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that fishermen must pay out-of-pocket for the cost of those monitors. Cause of Action Institute is appealing the ruling. The opening brief, filed in the First Circuit Court of Appeals, states:

“The New England and Mid-Atlantic fishing industry is older than the Nation itself.  Today it creates thousands of jobs in countless fishing communities. The industry’s regulators, however, have embarked on a project that threatens its imminent destruction.  They have done so without statutory authority, defying the most elementary limits on federal agency power.  This Court should intervene to protect fishermen from agencies run amok.”

Current government regulations compel fishermen to carry “at-sea monitors” who live with the fishermen at sea, observe their activities, check their compliance with federal regulations, and file reports upon their return to dock.  Fishermen have accepted the presence of monitors for years, and the government has historically paid for them with money appropriated by Congress.

In early 2016, however, the Government claimed to have run out of money.  Its response was to enforce a new requirement — now, the fishermen must pay for the monitors themselves, at an estimated cost of more than $700 per trip.  Most fishermen cannot afford to do so, and will be forced to abandon their livelihoods.

If the Government wants third-party monitors to police fishing activity, the Government must also take responsibility for paying for them. The district court disagreed, holding that the Government’s power to regulate the fishing industry and place monitors includes the much broader power to extract money from regulated parties when congressional appropriations run short.

The brief states:

“Such reasoning represents an unprecedented expansion of agencies’ implied powers, with implications stretching far beyond the agencies involved in this case. Contrary to the district court’s reasoning, the bedrock of administrative law is that federal agencies are limited to congressionally-delegated powers and congressionally-appropriated funds.  If they lack statutory authority or appropriated funds, they have no power to act.  They may not coerce their regulated industries to provide the funding that Congress has declined to grant.  This Court should reaffirm that principle and reverse the district court.”

For more information about the case, visit our website.

The Government Should Not Use Americans’ Confidential Tax Information to Sell ObamaCare

Washington D.C. – Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) today sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and requested two separate Inspector General (IG) investigations after details emerged about the federal government using confidential taxpayer information to market ObamaCare to individuals who have opted out of the program.

CoA Institute Assistant Vice President Henry Kerner: “Information obtained from tax returns should not be used to sell health insurance. The federal government is obligated to protect the confidentiality of tax returns. Instead, the Obama administration appears to be mining Americans’ tax returns to advertise and sell ObamaCare to people who don’t want it.”

A fact sheet released by CMS titled “Strengthening the Marketplace by Covering Young Adults” highlights CMS’s plan to boost ObamaCare enrollment by using taxpayer information. According to the fact sheet, “[f]or the first time this fall, we will conduct outreach to individuals and families who paid the fee for being uninsured, or claimed an exemption from that fee, for 2015.”  The law allows for personal tax information to be used only for the limited purpose of determining ObamaCare subsidy eligibility. It does not, however, permit CMS to market subsidies to taxpayers who have already rejected ObamaCare.

The potential disclosure of protected taxpayer information by the IRS raises concerns about whether the information is being appropriately safeguarded. To that end, CoA Institute sent requests for investigation to the Inspectors General of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

In its FOIA request, CoA Institute requested all records related to the use of taxpayer information by CMS to contact individuals who paid the penalty for being uninsured in 2015, as well as all records relating to the June 2016 CMS report on how to enroll more young adults.

The FOIA to CMS is available HERE

The HHS IG request for investigation is available HERE

The DOJ IG request for investigation is available HERE

Circuit Court Hears Oral Argument in Cause of Action Institute Federal Records Act Case on Clinton Emails

Today, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in Cause of Action Institute’s lawsuit against Secretary of State John Kerry and Archivist of the United States David Ferriero.  The case originally sought to enforce the officials’ Federal Records Act duties to initiate action through the Attorney General and notify Congress because they were unable to retrieve all of the federal records former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unlawfully removed from the State Department by setting up a personal email server to conduct official government business.  The district court below dismissed the case as moot because that court believed the State Department had recovered enough of the records and taken enough action short of initiating action through the Attorney General.  The oral argument heard today was on the appeal of that decision.

CoA Institute Vice President John Vecchione argued the case, which was consolidated with a similar case filed by Judicial Watch.  The three-judge panel was engaged on the issues and asked probing questions of both sides.

The oral argument can be heard in its entirety here.

CoA Institute Sues Treasury for “Sensitive” Records Concealed from Public Disclosure

Washington D.C. – Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) today filed a lawsuit to compel production of records from the U.S. Department of Treasury dealing with the agency’s “sensitive review” policy. These policies often delay open records requests through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), particularly when such productions contain politically sensitive or potentially embarrassing information, directly contrary to congressional policy.

To better understand the Treasury Department’s sensitive review procedures, who is involved, and how it is used, CoA Institute submitted a FOIA request to the agency in June 2013 seeking records relating to its FOIA process.

CoA Institute Vice President John Vecchione: “It’s ironic that our FOIA to learn more about sensitive review has itself been held up because of sensitive review. Even after the Department of Treasury agreed through mediation last year to start producing responsive records, it has failed to produce a single document. Agencies have utilized opaque sensitive review processes to delay records requests, adding months and even years to an agency’s response time. The public has a right to information about how agencies obstruct and delay open records requests that may reveal politically embarrassing information.”

According to information obtained from various agency inspectors general, similar sensitive review policies have been used at the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Interior, Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. At some agencies, sensitive review is applied not only to information the agency’s management considers sensitive, but also to any FOIA request from a representative of the news media, like CoA Institute, or where the request is likely to attract media or political attention.

Sensitive review often is conducted by political appointees—and sometimes by the Office of the White House Counsel—rather than by career FOIA professionals. These appointees sometimes required staff to find and provide information about requesters that FOIA does not require requestors to provide, such as where the requestors live, who they work for, and whether their employer is politically active or part of the news media.

The full complaint can be accessed HERE
All exhibits can be accessed HERE



October Newsletter

Cause of Action Institute published its October newsletter today. You can read the newsletter here and subscribe to the newsletter here.  The October newsletter highlights:

  • our investigative report, Presidential Access to Taxpayer Information, describing recent IRS misuse and unauthorized release of confidential taxpayer information and the role of a detailee program in the Office of the White House Counsel that could be used to provide access to the protected information;
  • a request for investigation we made to the Department of Justice Inspector General after one of Hillary Clinton’s top supporters, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, made a substantial political donation to the state senate campaign of Dr. Jill McCabe, the wife of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe; and
  • links to a recent op-ed about how EPA regulations affect the employment of millions of Americans, as well as several news articles covering recent CoA Institute actions.

CoA Institute Calls on FBI Official to Recuse Himself from Clinton Email Investigation

Washington D.C. – In light of potential conflicts of interest, Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) today called on FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to recuse himself from any further involvement in the renewed investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

CoA Institute last week sent a request for investigation to the Department of Justice Inspector General, as well as a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FBI, after media reports revealed that Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a key supporter of Hillary Clinton, made substantial political donations to the state senate campaign of Dr. Jill McCabe, the wife of FBI Deputy Director McCabe. On top of this potential conflict of interest, the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that FBI agents who were interested in aggressively pursuing an investigation into the Clinton Foundation were instructed by Mr. McCabe to “stand down.”

CoA Institute Vice President John J. Vecchione: “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should recuse himself from further involvement in the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Regardless of whether any illegal or unethical conduct occurred, these campaign contributions present a serious potential conflict of interest. Recent complaints within the FBI that Mr. McCabe instructed some agents to ‘stand down’ on further investigations raise additional concerns. Mr. McCabe should recuse himself in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety.”


CoA Institute Requests White House Communications with John Podesta, Interest Groups on Controversial National Monument Designations

Washington, DC – Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) today sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking records of correspondence among the White House, Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and outside interest groups discussing current and proposed national monument designations.

Unconfirmed emails obtained by CoA Institute appear to show John Podesta and White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Managing Director Christy Goldfuss discussing controversial designations of new national monuments and expansion of existing monuments under the Antiquities Act.

The broad use of the Antiquities Act under the Obama administration has raised concerns about the opaque process and lack of consultation with local stakeholders leading up to the president’s designation of new national monuments. If verified, these emails raise additional transparency concerns and the specter of collusion.

Ms. Goldfuss, a White House political appointee, appears to have used her private email account to coordinate with outside interest groups and individuals, including John Podesta, regarding the selection or designation of national monuments. For instance, in one unconfirmed email exchange, Ms. Goldfuss sent a work-related email to Mr. Podesta using her Gmail account in which she stated:

Hi John, . . . It’s all coming together.  I may have an oceans monument question for you soon.  We’re looking at the NE, and it’s messy.  Hope all is well!  We sure do feel your absence now that Kristina is gone.  I always felt like she channeled you so well. Talk soon, Christy.

By using her personal email account to conduct government business, Goldfuss may have violated the Federal Records Act, if she failed to forward those emails to her official government email account so that they can be appropriately archived and searched.

In another unconfirmed email exchange, Mr. Michael Conathan, the Director of Ocean Policy at Center for American Progress, emailed John Podesta with the Subject: “Re: A couple of quick ocean things”:

Hey John, Welcome back to the world outside the White House gates… Jane and I had a good meeting with Christy and the CEQ team, and got over to meet Brian earlier this week, so we’re full steam ahead with the monuments process. Thanks for all your help on that front. …

While the veracity of this email cannot be independently verified, White House visitor logs indicate that Mr. Conathan was at the White House on Feb. 23, 2015 to meet with Hilary Atkin, who, per publically available information, worked for CEQ at the time of the meeting.

To ensure compliance with the law, CoA Institute today requested all communications, including personal emails, relating to the Obama administration’s use of the Antiquities Act to unilaterally proclaim new national monuments.

CoA Institute Assistant Vice President Henry Kerner: “Designating a new area as a national monument should be an open process where the public and local stakeholders have an opportunity to be heard. The public also has a right to know whether decisions to limit public use of federal lands are properly made.  If verified, these personal emails show possible collusion among the Hillary Clinton campaign, the White House, and activist organizations to further the goals of interest groups at the expense of the American people.”

The FOIA is available HERE

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