The Center for Public Integrity is once again among the nation’s media leaders in filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits to obtain government records, according to a new report from a Syracuse University-based research organization.
The FOIA Project, part of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse, ranked the Center for Public Integrity third for most FOIA lawsuits filed by a news organization since 2001, behind only the New York Times and reporter Jason Leopold, now of Buzzfeed. Those results put the Center well ahead of such household names as the Associated Press, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.
The research project found that 91 news organizations and 161 reporters have brought lawsuits against the federal government for access to government records since the dawn of the George W. Bush administration. The Center for Public Integrity filed 26 suits from 2001 until June 2018. The New York Times filed 55 suits and Leopold filed 46 suits in the same time period.
Other newsrooms on the list included Buzzfeed in fifth place with 15 FOIA suits, and the Associated Press, Daily Caller News Foundation and the Center for Investigative Reporting tied for seventh place with eight lawsuits each.
Reporters at the Center for Public Integrity file hundreds of requests each year under the Freedom of Information Act, some of which yield important important from the government, but litigation is often required to accelerate the process and obtain the most illuminating documents. The Center was also among the leaders in TRAC’s has been listed as a leader among news outlets for FOIA lawsuits in previous years. It was ranked 1st in the top 10 FOIA filers during the Bush administration and 4th during the Obama administration.
The TRAC report also found that the number of FOIA lawsuits filed by news organizations and reporters jumped under the Trump administration’s year and a half in office to more than 100 suits for the first time.
“This is a dramatic increase compared with levels during the presidency of George W. Bush and the first term of President Obama when the annual number of media FOIA suits usually fluctuated year-by-year between 10 and 20 filings,” the report said.
The Center for Public Integrity’s research editor, Peter Smith, filed all our suits and noted two successful FOIA lawsuits that were crucial to recent investigations pertaining to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ financial assets and a sanctioned Russian bank’s lobbying efforts in D.C.
“It’s a sad commentary on the administration when a news organization has to resort to going to court to get what should be easily obtainable information,” said Center for Public Integrity CEO John Dunbar. “But we will do what we have to do to further our reporting, including filing lawsuits.”