For the third time in two years, the Center for Public Integrity has sued the Federal Election Commission — an agency that touts “transparency” in its mission statement — for refusing to release documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday with the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia, stems from the FEC’s refusal to make public emails between agency officials and the Office of Management and Budget during the initial days of President Donald Trump’s administration.
On Feb. 6, Center for Public Integrity senior political reporter Dave Levinthal filed a FOIA request seeking any email exchanges between a White House and FEC official.
On May 8, the FEC informed Levinthal that it had located responsive documents — all originating from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget — but that it would not release them. Instead, the agency said it was referring the matter to OMB.
Several messages left by Levinthal with OMB about the FOIA request went unreturned until June 2, when OMB wrote in an unsigned email: “We have no record of receiving the Agency consultation from FEC.” OMB did not respond to follow-up questions.
The FEC, for its part, insists OMB is aware of the Center for Public Integrity’s request. FEC officials provided an email documenting how, on May 4, it referred the Center for Public Integrity’s FOIA request to OMB. “And on May 8, we received an email from OMB Assistant General Counsel Trent W. Holbrook acknowledging receipt of our email,” FEC administrative law attorney Robert M. Kahn wrote earlier this month to the Center for Public Integrity.
Since then, neither the FEC nor OMB have provided the documents the Center requested.
As part of its lawsuit, the Center for Public Integrity has also asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to force the FEC to release internal documents pertaining to @alt_FEC — a popular Twitter account purportedly run by an anonymous FEC staff member and critical of the Trump administration and the agency’s Republican commissioners.
On Feb. 1, Levinthal asked for any agency “emails, memoranda or other correspondence or communication that discuss, mention, reference or otherwise pertain” to the @alt_FEC account. On May 2, the FEC produced seven pages of responsive documents but withheld 14 other pages. Levinthal filed an administrative appeal, and earlier this month, the FEC’s five commissioners voted 5-0 to deny the appeal.
Created in January, @alt_FEC now has more than 41,600 followers, compared to the official @FEC account, which has fewer than 9,400.