An uncontroverisal, mild Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reform bill may die on Monday, despite passing 410-0 in the House earlier this year, and with a similar bipartisan vote expected in the Senate. The bill had already been stripped of its most substantive provisions that government agencies objected to, but on Thursday, Democractic Senator Jay Rockefeller—who is set to retire at the end of the year—unilaterally placed a hold on the bill, apparently doing the bidding of federal agencies who don't want any more of their communications subject to public scrutiny. (Senate rules allow a single Senator to hold up votes on bills in certain situations.)
After refusing to answer questions about the hold for a day, Sen. Rockefeller issued a statement late Friday night that, as Cory Doctorow aptly described, "offered vague, bullshitty excuses...citing nonspecific issues with privacy that don't bear even cursory scrutiny."
Worse, Rockefeller's shameful hold has been met with almost complete silence from the nation's leading news organizations, many of whom have the most to gain from the passage of the bill, given they file countless FOIA requests every year. As many have documented, the Obama administration, despite promising to be the most transparent administration ever, has constantly abused FOIA exemptions and delayed countless requests, leading many comprehensive studies to conclude the Obama administration has an even worse FOIA record than the notoriously-secret Bush adminstration.
There is little chance Rockefeller would continue his hold if there were an op-ed in every major newspaper excoriating him as the hypocrite that he is, given how he is likely worried about his legacy as he exits the Senate for the final time in a couple weeks. Unfortunately, a cursory Google News search shows only a handful of articles and op-eds, and most of those are from smaller, independent outlets.
To make up for the silence of news organizations, we urge everyone reading this to contact Rockefeller's office to make your voice heard. Journalist Alex Howard, one of the few reporters who has been extensively covering Rockefeller's obstruction of the FOIA bill, has detailed how you can reach out to both Rockefeller's offices in both DC and his home state of West Virginia:
Since news of Senator Rockefeller’s hold on the bill first broke, dozens of people on Twitter and Facebook have been asking @SenRockefeller to release the hold. Tweets are almost certainly not going to be enough. If this is an issue that concerns you or (if you’re in the media, your listeners, readers or viewers), Senator Rockefeller’s office is in at 531 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510. The office number is (202) 224-6472, the fax is (202) 224-7665, and the email is [email protected]. (Unfortunately, the DC phone is currently going to voicemail and there’s no guarantee that your email will be read. You can also call the senator’s satellite offices in Beckley, WV (304-253-9704), Charleston (304-347-5372), Fairmont (304-367-0122), or Martinsburg (304 262-9285). You can also contact your own U.S. Senators and ask them about the hold.)
Remember if Rockefeller doesn't remove his hold by the end of Monday, the bill will die completely, so please act quickly if you can.