Cause of Action Institute Signs Second Coalition Letter Warning of Continued Congressional Interference with the FOIA

Cause of Action Institute signed a letter yesterday, joining a broad coalition of government transparency advocates, warning members of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives about the dangers of mounting congressional interference with the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) and, specifically, continued efforts to expand the definition of “congressional records” not subject to disclosure. The letter comes in the wake of the House Committee on Ways and Means’ motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed by American Oversight, a left-leaning government transparency group.

The letter reiterates much of the argument found in a May 2017 coalition letter from government transparency advocates urging Jeb Hensarling, the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, to rescind his directive that federal agencies treat any and all records exchanged with the Committee as exempt from the FOIA. As I have previously discussed, the mere fact that an agency possesses a record that relates to Congress, was created by Congress, or was transmitted to Congress, does not by itself render it a “congressional record.” The law instead requires that Congress manifest clear intent to maintain control over specific records to keep them out of reach of the FOIA.  Chairman Hensarling and the leadership of the Ways and Means Committee are pushing the boundaries of this legal requirement.

Cause of Action Institute continues to investigate Chairman Hensarling’s controversial, and legally dubious, attempt to frustrate public access to records of the Executive Branch’s dealings with Congress, as well as similar efforts undertaken at the Internal Revenue Service. The transparency community and the general public must remain united in protecting the spirit of disclosure and open government promised by the FOIA.

Ryan Mulvey is Counsel at Cause of Action Institute.