Each year during Sunshine Week (March 13-19), The Foilies serve up tongue-in-cheek "awards" for government agencies and assorted institutions that stand in the way of access to information. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and MuckRock combine forces to collect horror stories about Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and state-level public records requests from journalists and transparency advocates across the United States and beyond. Our goal is to identify the most surreal document redactions, the most aggravating copy fees, the most outrageous retaliation attempts, and all the other ridicule-worthy attacks on the public's right to know.
And every year since 2015, as we're about to crown these dubious winners, something new comes to light that makes us consider stopping the presses.
As we were writing up this year's faux awards, news broke that officials from the National Archives and Records Administration had to lug away boxes upon boxes of Trump administration records from Mar-a-Lago, President Trump's private resort. At best, it was an inappropriate move; at worst, a potential violation of laws governing the retention of presidential records and the handling of classified materials. And while Politico had reported that when Trump was still in the White House, he liked to tear up documents, we also just learned from journalist Maggie Haberman's new book that staff claimed to find toilets clogged up with paper scraps, which were potentially torn-up government records. Trump has dismissed the allegations, of course.
This was all too deliciously ironic considering how much Trump had raged about his opponent (and 2016 Foilies winner) Hillary Clinton's practice of storing State Department communications on a private server. Is storing potentially classified correspondence on a personal email system any worse than hoarding top secret documents at a golf club? Is "acid washing" records, as Trump accused Clinton, any less farcical than flushing them down the john?
Ultimately, we decided not to give Trump his seventh Foilie. Technically he isn't eligible: his presidential records won't be subject to FOIA until he's been out of office for five years (releasing classified records could take years, or decades, if ever).
Instead, we're sticking with our original 16 winners, from federal agencies to small town police departments to a couple of corporations, who are all shameworthy in their own rights and, at least metaphorically, have no problem tossing government transparency in the crapper.