CLC Demands Transparency, Submits Series of FOIA Requests to Government Agencies

Red pen underlining the word "ethics"

As the lawyers for America’s democracy, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) has been working in overdrive over the last few weeks to hold President Trump and his administration accountable for conflicts of interest and for false statements on voter fraud. Additionally, with recent revelations about excessive use of private jets for taxpayer-funded travel, we have submitted FOIA requests to a number of government agencies for records that would provide transparency about the use of chartered planes by cabinet-level officials for government travel.

In order to hold any presidential administration accountable, we must gather all the facts. Official government activities must be transparent and that’s why CLC is submitting a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to various governmental agencies during 2017.


CLC FOIA Request Tracker


  • January 11, 2018: FOIA request sent to the Department of the Interior Office of the Secretary and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for records pertaining to the exemption of Florida from offshore drilling expansion. 

    DETAILS: On January 9, 2018, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced on Twitter that he would be exempting the state of Florida from the administration’s offshore drilling expansion plan. This sudden policy reversal for one particular state immediately prompted widespread outrage from governors of other coastal states and the broader public. So, we sent a FOIA request to two sections of the Department of Interior seeking any materials that were consulted in this process and also any relevant communications concerning the decision.  

    Read the request.
  • December 8, 2017: FOIA request sent to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for agreements and contracts between ICE and GEO Corrections Holdings, Inc., regarding the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington.

    DETAILS: We recently became aware that ICE and private prison company GEO Corrections Holdings, Inc., have been parties to an operations and management agreement for a detention facility in Tacoma, Washington. We seek details on this agreement, as well as any other related agreements or contracts, between these two entities. 

    Read the request.
  • November 16, 2017: FOIA request sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for documents pertaining to the decision to assign DOJ staff to work on cases about President Trump’s private businesses.

    DETAILS: Since January 2017, four lawsuits have been filed related to President Trump, his private businesses, and potential violations of the Emoluments Clause. On November 15, 2017, USA Today reported that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had assigned at least ten DOJ lawyers and paralegals to work on the cases. We seek details on this decision, which has raised questions about the appropriateness of using DOJ resources to defend the president in cases related to his private businesses. 

    * Read the request.
  • November 13, 2017: FOIA request sent to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for communications pertaining to the role two lobbyists played in Kirstjen Nielsen’s confirmation process.

    DETAILS: After President Trump appointed John Kelly as Chief of Staff, the White House announced that Trump planned to nominate Kirstjen Nielsen as the next DHS Secretary. However, reports soon came out that, in a break with precedent, lobbyists Thad Bingel and Stewart Verdery had played central roles in Nielsen’s confirmation process. The same day as CLC filed a complaint regarding the potential ethics violation, we also filed this FOIA request for details on the nature and extent of Bingel’s and Verdery’s roles.  

    * Read the request.
  • October 5, 2017: FOIA requests sent to the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, and State for documents pertaining to the Secretaries' travel. 

    DETAILS: In light of the ever-multiplying revelations about Cabinet members’ costly travel habits, CLC seeks a full picture of travel practices across all Departments.

    Read the requests:
    • Rick Perry (link)
    • James Mattis (link)
    • Wilbur Ross (link)
    • Ben Carson (link)
    • Jeff Sessions (link)
    • Rex Tillerson (link)
    • Betsy DeVos (link)
    • Alexander Acosta (link)
  • October 5, 2017: FOIA request sent to the Department of Agriculture for records pertaining to Secretary Sonny Perdue’s travel. 

    DETAILS: In the course of reporting on Interior Secretary Zinke’s use of non-commercial planes for government travel, The Washington Post also revealed that on at least one occasion Secretary Perdue had been the one to invite Secretary Zinke to fly on a military jet. CLC seeks details from the Department of Agriculture about the authorizations for—and the expenses incurred during—this trip.

    *Read the request.
  • October 5, 2017: FOIA request sent to the Department of Veterans Affairs for documents related to Secretary David Shulkin’s official trips.

    DETAILS: On September 29, 2017, The Washington Post reported not only that taxpayers footed the bill for the travel costs of Secretary Shulkin’s wife during a July trip to Europe but also that the pair spent half the time sightseeing. CLC seeks full accounts of all expenses incurred by the Secretary and his family members on publically funded travel. 

    * Read the request.
  • September 28, 2017: FOIA request sent to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for records regarding EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s travel and the agency’s recent contract for an expensive soundproof room.

    DETAILS: Yesterday, the Washington Post and CBS News reported that Administrator Pruitt has joined the growing list of federal officials opting to travel by expensive, non-commercial aircraft. What’s more, the previous day, another report had revealed that the EPA signed a $24,570 contract for a sound-proof “privacy booth” for Administrator Pruitt. CLC seeks details about both sets of revelations and hopes that the requested records will help the public understand how taxpayer funds are being used at the EPA.

    *Read the request.
  • September 28, 2017: FOIA request sent to the Department of the Interior for records pertaining to travel by Secretary Ryan Zinke.

    DETAILS: In light of the recent series of revelations about Cabinet members traveling via charter and military aircraft at the public expense, CLC also seeks information about Secretary Zinke’s travel practices. 

    *Read the request.
  • September 27, 2017: FOIA request sent to the General Services Administration (GSA) for Senior Federal Travel Reports submitted this calendar year.

    DETAILS: In light of the series of recent revelations about Cabinet members’ reliance on military and chartered aircraft for routine government travel, CLC seeks a fuller understanding of travel practices across federal agencies. These Senior Federal Travel Reports, which agencies are required to file semi-annually with the GSA, will help us see what Cabinet members’ travels are costing taxpayers. 

    UPDATE: On October 19, 2017, GSA denied our FOIA request and refused to turn over any of the Senior Federal Travel Reports we requested. GSA argued that “agencies maintain ownership of their travel data and determine how that data is made available to the public” and thus that GSA would not be releasing the reports.

    UPDATE: On February 8, 2018, we appealed this denial. We argued that the denial constituted an evasion of GSA’s FOIA responsibilities and an improper withholding of records that do in fact meet the definition of GSA “agency records.”

    *Read the request.
  • September 26, 2017: FOIA request sent to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) regarding drafts of recently-issued Advisory Opinion 2017-06 (Stein/Gottlieb).

    DETAILS: On September 14, 2017, the FEC issued Advisory Opinion 2017-06, which approved Eli Stein and Jeremy Gottlieb’s request to create an app for users to “round-up” their online transactions and donate the change to federal candidates. During the drafting process, CLC had filed comments to the FEC expressing serious concerns about approving this request. CLC seeks copies of all drafts of the advisory opinion that have been circulated to or discussed with individuals or entities outside the FEC.

    *Read the request.

    UPDATE: On Oct. 10, 2017, the FEC responded to our FOIA request and provided an additional draft of its Advisory Opinion in the Stein/Gottlieb matter. This draft had not previously been made public. 
  • September 26, 2017: Three FOIA requests sent to the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Transportation, and the Air Force regarding additional Cabinet members’ travel habits.

    DETAILS: ABC News has reported that Secretaries Steven Mnuchin and Elaine Chao traveled on a U.S. Air Force plane between Washington, D.C., and New York City on August 15, 2017, when they appeared alongside President Trump at a Trump Tower press conference. CLC seeks full accounts of Cabinet members’ uses of—and authorizations for travel upon—costly military aircraft.
  • September 21, 2017: FOIA request sent to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requesting records pertaining to Secretary Tom Price’s travel.

    DETAILS: On September 19, 2017, Politico reported that Secretary Price had traveled via chartered planes five times over three days in September, costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars for government travel to destinations easily reachable by commercial aircraft and ground transportation. Through this request, CLC seeks details on how these expensive trips were requested and approved.

    UPDATE: One hour after CLC sent its FOIA request, Politico published a follow-up story revealing that Secretary Price had in fact traveled by chartered planes at least 24 times since taking office. These new revelations make the records CLC seeks even more important for a full understanding of how taxpayer funds are being used at HHS.

    *Read our request.
  • March 7, 2017: FOIA request sent to the U.S. Treasury requesting records pertaining to President Trump's pledge to donate profits earned in his hotels to the U.S. Treasury.

    DETAILS: On Jan. 1, 2017, Trump's attorney Sheri Dillon stated that he is voluntarily donating all profits from foreign governments made to his hotels during his presidency to the U.S. Treasury. After news of high-profile foreign nationals visiting Trump properties this winter, CLC is checking to make sure that is happening.

    UPDATE: On April 10, the U.S. Treasury replied to CLC's FOIA Request, saying that they have granted CLC's request for expedited processing and noting that the Trump Organization announced it would be making its first donations to the Treasury for profits obtained by the organization in 2018.

    *Read our request.
  • March 3, 2017: FOIA request sent to the Environmental Protection Agency requesting correspondence between President Trump's advisor Carl Icahn and the EPA.

    DETAILS: As the majority owner of oil refiner CVR Energy Inc., Carl Icahn has pushed for changes in the Renewable Fuel   Standard Rules. CLC is seeking information about what communications Icahn might have had with the federal agency tasked with protecting the environment and regulating energy refiners.

    *Read our request.
  • February 28, 2017: FOIA request sent to the Bureau of Prisons and Office of Inspector General at the Department of Justice.

    DETAILS: CLC requests records of documents that mention "Rebuilding America Now," a super PAC that supported Donald Trump, which received campaign contributions from GEO Group, one of America's largest private prison contractors. CLC submitted a FOIA Request to gather information about how the DOJ reached its conclusion to rescind the Aug. 18, 2016 memo about the phase-out of private prison contracts.

    UPDATE: CLC sent a letter to the DOJ informing them that CLC intends to file suit seeking a court order that would require the government to stop its unlawful delay in complying with our FOIA Request.

    *Read our request.
  • February 16, 2017: FOIA request sent Office of Information Policy Department of Justice and Office of Public Affairs Department of Justice. 

    DETAILS: CLC requests records of communications to or from Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch during his tenure as Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General at the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), during George W. Bush’s voter fraud investigation, which resulted in the politically motivated firings of several DOJ attorneys.

    UPDATE: While our request for expedited process was granted on February 28, we still have not received a full answer to our request. The department did not release all the documents and also have not provided CLC with the requested index of which documents were withheld based on privilege and exemptions from the FOIA requirements. Read more.

    *Read our request.
  • February 16, 2017: FOIA request sent to Election Assistance Commission, the Office of Legal Counsel Department of Justice, and the Office of Management and Budget.

    DETAILS: CLC requests records pertaining to the Election Assistance Commission (“EAC”), including recent proposals to eliminate the Commission and requests that the EAC alter the federal voter registration form to allow for documentary-proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirements.

    *Read our request.
  • February 15, 2017: FOIA request sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Office of Legal Counsel Department of Justice, Office of Information Policy Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division Department of Justice, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, Department of Justice.

    DETAILS: CLC requests records pertaining to the writings and communications regarding President Trump’s allegations of widespread voter fraud, his proposal for “a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and …. even, those who registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time)”, and his proposals to “strengthen up voter procedures.”

    UPDATE: On April 14, CLC received a reply from the OMB saying that there were no records identified related to these allegations.

    UPDATE: On September 12, CLC received a reply from DOJ that an employee at the Heritage Foundation - later revealed to be Hans von Spakovsky - pushed back on naming even a single Democrat to the Pence-Kobach Commission, betraying the true partisan intent of the commission. (Coverage in the New York Times)

    *Read our request.
  • February 15, 2017: FOIA request sent to Office of Legal Counsel Department of Justice, U.S. General Services Administration, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Office of Government Ethics.

    DETAILS: On February 9, speaking from the White House briefing room, President Trump senior advisor Kellyanne Conway used an interview with Fox News to promote the business of the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump: copies of all following digital and physical records encompassing all training or education materials regarding all correspondence pertaining to Kellyanne Conway’s endorsement of Ivanka Trump’s brand (excluding correspondence received from the general public); all records pertaining to the counseling provided to Kellyanne Conway or other executive branch employees who may violate or have violated ethics rules.

    DETAILS: On March 10, CLC received a response to the FOIA request. CLC received 225 pages of documents from the OGE which includes details of conversations between the White House and OGE about Conway's ethics issue and what actions they were taking to address it. Read our blog on the timeline of events.

    *Read our request.