Judicial Watch Leads All Nonprofit FOIA litigants, Far Ahead Of ACLU

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Mark Tapscott Executive Editor, Chief of Investigative Group
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Conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch is leading two liberal groups in an explosion of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits, seeking to force federal officials to publicize thousands of previously hidden documents, according to a new study by The FOIA Project.

“Even a casual perusal of the plaintiffs in FOIA suits filed week after week reveals that there are a small number of advocacy organizations that appear again and again,” The FOIA Project said in a statement Thursday.

“Indeed, the widely recognized champion among FOIA filers is Judicial Watch, Inc. … this single organization has been responsible for an astounding one out of every five FOIA lawsuits filed by all nonprofit groups since 2001,” the statement added. The group’s data covers a 16-year period, from 2001 to April 2017.

Judicial Watch filed 324 FOIA law suits. Second and third, respectively, on the list of nonprofit advocacy groups filing FOIA suits are the American Civil Liberties Union with 117 suits and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington with 77 suits.

Nonprofits account for 40 percent of all FOIA suits, and the top three groups alone have filed 518 suits since 2001. The combined total for the 17 other groups that filed at least 10 suits came to 616.

The annual total of FOIA suits filed by nonprofits has skyrocketed in recent years.

“In 2001, the first year of the George W. Bush administration, nonprofit/advocacy organizations filed 47 cases challenging federal agencies’ FOIA practices. These cases made up one out of every seven (14.2%) federal FOIA suits filed that year,” FOIA Project officials said. “Ten years later, the annual number of suits filed by this sector surpassed 100 individual cases. By June 2015, this sector’s 12-month running total had topped 150, and in April of 2017 nonprofit and advocacy organizations’ FOIA filings topped 200 for the first time.”

Other active nonprofit FOIA litigants include the Electronic Privacy Information Center  with 64, Natural Resources Defense Council with 43, Electronic Frontier Foundation with 40, Cause of Action Institute with 35, Center for Biological Diversity with 30, and the Energy & Environment Legal Institute with 27.

The FOIA Project is an initiative of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. TRAC “obtains detailed information from various federal agencies under the FOIA, checks its accuracy and completeness and makes the data available to the public through its two web sites, TRAC and TRACFed.”

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