Ethan Barton, DCNF
A liberal news outlet waited just four months before a federal agency gave it more than 1,000 pages of a Republican’s emails, while conservative groups’ requests have been ignored for years, according to documents obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group.
Records show the Federal Election Commission (FEC) reviewed more than 4,400 pages of emails related to a Freedom Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Andy Kroll, a reporter with the liberal news outlet Mother Jones. Kroll sought all emails Don McGahn sent between July 2008 through September 2013 while he was an FEC commissioner.
The FEC received Kroll’s request Jan. 30, 2017, and released more than 1,000 pages of McGahn’s emails in June. McGahn became White House counsel 10 days before the request was received.
FOIA requestors can ask for priority handling for particular newsworthy or time-sensitive documents, but Kroll did not ask for such treatment, records show. He did not receive the records in time for use in an April article and has not published any stories using information from this FOIA request, the Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief told TheDCNF.
Meanwhile, the FEC hasn’t released records related to 17 FOIA requests filed more than three years ago, many of which were submitted by conservative groups, including some seeking documents on taxpayer- and foreign-funded travel by Democratic commissioners.
The National Republican Lawyers Association, for example, filed the oldest outstanding request six years ago, seeking correspondence between the Democratic FEC commissioners and outside groups.
Additionally, conservative group or officials with such organizations filed eight of the 10 next oldest outstanding FOIA requests, all of which are more than four years old. The Government Accountability Institute filed five of those, and Judicial Watch and American Center for Law & Justice officials each filed one.
Bill McGinley, the present White House cabinet secretary, filed one in July 2013 while working at the law firm Patton Boggs.
The descriptions in the FEC’s FOIA log were typically too vague to determine how complex those requests are. More recent requests, however, are more clear.
A Fox News FOIA request sought records on FEC commissioners’ travel, while The Wall Street Journal requested travel documents for just one official over for a less-than-two-year period. Both were requested in 2015.
More recently, Rudy Takala – an editor with The Hill who was a Washington Examiner reporter at the time – has only received some documents in response to an October 2016 FOIA request. He asked for a number of documents, including a list of the staff who went to either the Republican or Democratic national conventions, which he still hasn’t received.
Cause of Action Institute filed a lawsuit against the FEC for records on Takala’s behalf on Aug. 23. Similarly, the Center for Public Integrity has sued the FEC three times in two years for failing to comply with FOIA requests.
“The FEC has not been able to provide me with a handful of receipts from commissioners who attended the presidential nominating conventions more than a year ago, but it was able to review more than 4,400 of Don McGahn’s emails within a matter of months,” Takala told TheDCNF. “It’s hard to think of any credible way to explain that discrepancy. A reasonable person could certainly be led to believe that the agency is responding to FOIA requests selectively.”
The FEC did quickly provide TheDCNF with records cited in this story. The requests, however, sought two specific documents amounting to 17 pages.
“We don’t comment on matters that could be connected with pending litigation,” FEC spokeswoman Judith Ingram told TheDCNF.
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