FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
News from Progress Michigan
October 8, 2015
Schuette Pushes FOIA Fees to Block Public’s Right to Know
Documents prove AG Bill Schuette’s Office advises using FOIA fees to discourage public seeking access to information
LANSING — Documents obtained by Progress Michigan through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office is advising state departments to use a “fee approach” to deny access to records requests by charging exorbitant fees for easily searchable documents.
Portions of the document in question were supposed to be redacted, but were actually legible through the ink. The documents were part of a FOIA request seeking documents regarding department communications surrounding another FOIA request by Progress Michigan.
“Progress Michigan has continuously called for FOIA reform and has on more than one occasion pointed to high fees as simply a mechanism to deter public scrutiny,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “This is one of the times I wish I didn’t have to say we told you so, but we told you so. There is no excuse for this behavior and intentional lack of transparency.”
“There’s clearly an epidemic of high-level elected officials abusing and hiding behind FOIA. Over the past two years, we’ve identified numerous circumstances where FOIA laws were either skirted or broken,” Scott continued. “It’s time we did an overhaul of how our state’s open record laws operate.”
Terry Stanton of the Treasury Department sent the email below on April 1st. NOTE: The bolded portions of the text indicate the redacted portions that are actually visible.
I wanted to share this with you, in case other departments received similar FOIA requests from Hugh Madden with Progress Michigan, ie “copies of all communications with Paul Pastorek, education adviser.” Given the incredibly broad nature of the request, and per advice from the AG, the response carries a $52k fee. This may cause them to “cry wolf.”
Our initial plan was to deny, given the broad nature of the request…but the AG preferred the fee approach.
After this email was authored, Progress Michigan received a response to the FOIA request discussed in the email on April 3rd with a hefty price tag. Treasury claimed that it would cost $52,000 to fulfill the FOIA request.
The email was sent to several communications officials with Gov. Rick Snyder’s office, including Sara Wurfel and Dave Murray along with Carla Robert, FOIA coordinator of the Treasury Department.
“The man who was elected to be ‘the people’s attorney’ is working behind the scenes to deter people’s right to access public information,” Scott continued. “This is a shameful display of disdain for accountability and transparency from Bill Schuette and the Snyder administration.”
Progress Michigan has experienced the “fee approach” several times when filing FOIA requests with various state departments, including the Attorney General’s office, which recently said it would cost $20,000 to fulfill a FOIA request about communications with lobbyists with known influence in AG offices around the country.
The documents can be viewed below or at this link.