in Houston, Texas
FOIA Tools with Mark Lisheron
Sunday, Nov 11, 2012, 11:23AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

Navigating the Freedom of Information Act

A guide by Austin Bureau Chief Mark Lisheron

512-891-8303

mark@texaswatchdog.org

www.texaswatchdog.org



The FOIA letter generator
http://www.rcfp.org/foia

This handy site will allow you to produce a quick letter asking a state, local or federal government entity for the public records you want. It also shows you example of records that are public at the state and federal level and provides direct links to your state’s open records law.

Texas Attorney General

https://www.oag.state.tx.us/

This is the agency overseeing your state open records laws.

Texas Public Information Act

https://www.tsl.state.tx.us/agency/customer/pia.html

Every state calls it something a little different and the llaws state by state vary wildly. It is very helpful to become acquainted with these laws.

Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas

http://www.foift.org/

Pretty sure most states have a non-profit made up of journalists and lawyers at the ready to offer advice in open records and meetings cases. Find yours.

Texas Ethics Commission

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/

Every state has a body keeping track of campaign contributions, legislators' financial disclosures and lobbying registration.

Toothless, Secretive Ethics Commission Fails the Public

http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2011/10/toothless-texas-ethics-commission-fails-the-public/1319667922.story

If your ethics watchdog is like Texas' you have a ready-made story pillorying its ineffectiveness.

Department of Justice FOIA page:

http://www.foia.gov/

Justice is notorious for making life difficult for reporters crafting FOIA requests, dawdling, kicking them back or interpreting requests too narrowly. Know your enemy.

Electronic Frontier Foundation Transparency Project:

https://www.eff.org/issues/transparency

The Foundation has been around but this is a brnd new project to assist reporters and the public with resources to help you get public documents. Check them out.

White House Visitors:

http://watchdog.org/59851/white-house-visitors-log-shows-a-list-of-rich-famous-and-powerful/

This is a story I did based on a database put together by Franklin digi-wizard Earl Glynn. Shows you how much fun you can have with public documents.

Shoddy Workmanship - Texas Watchdog

http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2010/05/shoddy-workmanship-found-in-a-223-million-federal-stimulus/1273768182.story

Texas Watchdog produced more than 100 stories on th stimulus, most of them based on record obtined through the state's records law.

Recovery Act Transparency: Harvard University

http://www.scribd.com/doc/101040432/Recovery-Act-Transparency

And while we did amazing work, cited by Harvard, the federal government has developed cloaking devices for transparency, like Recovery.gov

Government Data Publication - Cato Institute

http://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/grading-governments-data-publication-practices

Excellent state-by-state assessment of the handling of public documents, strengths and, of course, weaknesses.

Requests to Withhold Information - Texas Tribune

http://www.texastribune.org/texas-local-news/public-information-act/dallas-suburbs-lead-state-attempts-deny-public-rec/

With the explosion of forml public information requests has come the explosion of requests by government entities to keep their workings secret.

The Liberal War on Transparency - Christopher Horner

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/nov/7/book-review-the-liberal-war-on-transparency/

Reporter Gets Half a Million in Records Settlement

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/FBI-must-pay-S-F-journalist-470-000-3965054.php

 


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