FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
News from Progress Michigan
August 4, 2015
Progress Michigan Challenges Unreasonable FOIA Charges
Progress Michigan FOIA seeks information regarding lobbyist influence in Attorney General’s office
LANSING — Today, Progress Michigan appealed a cost estimate from the Office of the Attorney General regarding the watchdog group’s latest FOIA request. The FOIA seeks communications between certain employees of the Attorney General and known lobbyists. In response, the Attorney General is demanding $19,313.78 in fees to simply search for the records requested.
The emails sought by Progress Michigan are similar to the information used by the New York Times for a story detailing the pressure and influence that corporate lobbyists have over Attorneys General across the country. Progress Michigan is seeking to determine if Attorney General Bill Schuette, the chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association, has engaged in the same type questionable conduct as the other Attorneys General in the New York Times story.
“Attorney General Schuette has praised the FOIA process as one of the ‘foundations of our freedom and the key to the democratic process’ and he couldn’t be more right,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “Sadly, this cost estimate shows that Mr. Schuette’s actions do not match his rhetoric – especially when his conduct is the subject of the FOIA request. Is Schuette trying to hide how much well-heeled, out-of-state corporate lobbyists influence his decisions?”
The appeal is based on previous FOIA requests that have been honored without charge because of the easy availability of electronic records. Both the Department of Education and the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) have honored Progress Michigan requests at no cost. Those requests were both much broader than the current FOIA request in question.
Recently, a $52,000 search fee was proposed by the Michigan Department of Treasury for another FOIA request, to which Progress Michigan filed an internal appeal to have the fee reduced. That process concluded with a significant drop in the fee to a more appropriate level.
“Charging nearly $20,000 to search for publicly available records is a violation of the spirit of the FOIA law and Attorney General Schuette should step in and require that his office correct this estimate,” Scott continued. “Our organization is willing to pay for proper costs associated with our request, however, we will not allow the Attorney General to hide behind exorbitant fees to avoid public scrutiny. Is Bill Schuette trying to hide something from the public?”