FOIA Friday: Money Mishegoss in Michigan and Other Stories

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Court Orders Obama Justice Department to Justify Some of Its Withholdings on Black Panther Scandal: During the 2008 Presidential elections, several members of the New Black Panther Party were implicated in a voter intimidation scandal. Fast-forward a few years, and independent watchdog group Judicial Watch has requested documents relating to the dismissal of the aforementioned trial. After a period during which the DOJ refused to release said information, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton has now ordered the Obama administration to either release the requested documents or provide acceptable justification relating to their unattainability.

Transit Agency Demands $300 to Reveal CEO’s Salary: It would seem that Michigan state agencies have a habit of overcharging for FOIA request fulfillment. Back in aught-9, the State Police placed a $5.9 million price tag on the information regarding the state’s use of Homeland Security grants from 2002-2009. A few days ago, in Muskegon, MI, the city of Muskegon informed requesters that it would cost $300 to acquire data from the Muskegon Area Transit System on the salary and benefits of the authority’s CEO. This is an age-old anti-FOIA technique at work, one we’ve run into at Muckrock as well: drive away truth-seekers with exorbitant prices.

Romney’s Pitch to S&P Included Tax Hikes: In local news, Slate reports on the results of a FOI request that show how Mitt Romney convinced S&P—yeah, that name may sound a little familiar—to upgrade Massachusetts’ credit rating from AA- to AA. Not at all shockingly, he did so by pointing to tax increases, not—as many politicians claimed as the reason for S&P’s downgrade of the US’s credit rating—spending worries.

FOIA Lawsuit Forces CIA to Release Bay of Pigs Details: Finally, of potential interest to all the historians among us is this tidbit: The CIA is finally releasing the details of the Bay of Pigs operation through FOIA procedures. To follow the release and analysis of the information, check out the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which gets credit for the successful request.

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FOIA (Good) Friday

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Happy Good Friday to everyone! This Friday is especially good because not only do you have the holiday, but there’s also another FOI Friday for you. Most of the stuff we’re looking at can be found here anytime you like, and if you have any suggestions, please send them on over to tips@muckrock.com.

Now to the news:

MI State Police: We have nothing to hide: After reports began to circulate in Michigan that police were downloading the full phone records (including texts, e-mails, etc.) of people pulled over in simple traffic stops, the Michigan branch of the ACLU got involved. They submitted their initial FOI request for the records in August of 2008 and were told that the cost of disassembling and disclosing information on five of the devices supposedly used illegally during the stops would cost upwards of $500,000, and the ACLU was told they needed to pay a $272,340 deposit before receiving any documents. Attempts to narrow the request to avoid such exorbitant fees were met with claims that no such records existed. The MI state police department claims that not only do they not use the devices the UCLA claims they do, but also that they had worked with the ACLU to try and lower the fees for the FOI request. The dispute is ongoing.

CREW Files FOIA Request With Secret Service for Records of Health Care Execs White House Visits: Seeking to identify how much, if any, influence healthcare executives had on the design of the “Obamacare” bill, CREW (Citizens for Ethics in Washington) have filed a FOIA request for the records of all visits to Obama by the aforementioned executives. While the president’s administration holds that the records are not subject to FOI laws, CREW is optimistic that the Secret Service will release the information.

General Who Resigned After Abu Ghraib Recruited For Senate Bid: Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez should be no stranger to controversial press, given his involvement as a commanding officer at Abu Ghraib prison. Now the report is that the Democratic party has been grooming him for a Senate run in a typically-conservative district. In spite of his claims to ignorance of the actions of his soldiers, Sanchez didn’t escape the Abu Ghraib hubbub smelling like a rose. According to the results of an ACLU FOI request in 2005, Sanchez issued orders to exploit the fear of dogs of “Arabs” in the prison, and several sources finger him as having been involved in the decision to torture the prisoners.

Bringing the outside in at Eric Holder’s Justice Department: After Attorney General Eric Holder announced a re-invigoration of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, a reasonable observer might expect a new era of equality and transparency. Instead, alleges J. Christian Adams at the Washington Examiner, Holder has ushered in an era of difficulty and political bias. The judges and lawyers hired by Holder’s Justice Department, says Adams, have been activists with extreme views on the issues they’ve been given influence over. Libertarian group Pajama Media filed a FOI request in the summer of 2010, asking for the resumes of all new DoJ hires. It has yet to be fulfilled, in contrast to an identical request that was responded to within three weeks by the Bush administration in 2007.