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Watchdog group wins FOI fee waiver in IRS case

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information    

Watchdog group wins FOI fee waiver in IRS case

  • The IRS and Treasury Department’s refusal to waive fees for records on a commissioner’s outside financial interests was a “roadblock” and a “technicality” that Congress had not intended.

May 15, 2003 — The public interest group Judicial Watch is entitled to a fee waiver in its Freedom of Information Act requests for records showing the connections between a former Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rossotti and a company in which he had financial interests, the U.S.Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled May 2.

Reversing the decision of a lower court, Judge David Tatel wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel that the court agreed with Judicial Watch that the government’s denial of a public interest fee waiver request was just the sort of “roadblock” and “technicality” that led Congress to liberalize the fee waivers for FOI requests in 1986.

Judicial Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that describes itself as “committed to fighting corruption by government officials,” sued for fee waivers in its FOI requests for information on Rossotti’s relationship, while in office, with a company that he co-founded and in which he still owned stock.

The IRS ignored the fee-waiver request and the Department of Treasury rejected it.

A requester is eligible for a public interest fee waiver when disclosure will “contribute significantly to public understanding of government operations and activities.”

The court rejected the government’s claims that the watchdog organization had been “vague and conclusory” in describing what public interest disclosure would serve. The request described with specificity why the public has an interest in the records and how information would be disseminated to the public, the court said.

The FOI Act also outlines automatic fee benefits for certain categories of requesters such as “representatives of the news media,” but those benefits were not at issue in this case.

(Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Rossotti; Counsel: Larry Klayman, Washington, D.C.) RD

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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