Andy Kroll for Mother Jones:
A strange thing happened last week at the Federal Election Commission, the nation’s watchdog for campaigns and elections. On Friday evening, the FEC’s three Republican members quietly released a slew of missing legal memos related to cases dating back as far as 10 years. The commissioners gave no reason for why they decided to act now, after a decade of silence on the cases in question.
But it turns out that the newly released memos were the result of a Freedom of Information Act request recently filed by Mother Jones. The request was a modest one and asked only for a list of all such overdue legal documents at the FEC. That list would show every case for which FEC commissioners had failed to perform a customary part of their jobs: explaining to the public why they had voted a certain way on cases that had come before the agency. Dismiss a complaint, open an investigation, assess a fine—whichever way a commissioner decides, he or she is expected to explain that decision in a memo made available to the public.
In a move that perplexed several legal experts, the FEC denied our FOIA request. Yet soon after that, the FEC’s three Republican commissioners hastily wrote and released to the public 11 of these long-overdue legal memos. When Mother Jonesasked the three Republican commissioners if our FOIA request had anything to do with their decision to act, two of them, Lee Goodman and Matthew Petersen, confirmed that it had. “Most of these were on the back burner as our reasons were either already clear or changes in the law made the issues moot,” Petersen says. “Your request was a useful reminder to bolster the record with formal statements.”