FOIA Reform Dies on the Senate Floor
Speaker Olde Delaware's signature transparency effort dropped after a term of scant progress
Written by PhDre and McEntire
The Senate Speaker Olde Delaware (OD) pulled the plug on his unpopular transparency reform legislation earlier this week, the marquee initiative he campaigned on in the last General Election. The Speaker pointed to a lack of demand from the electorate and his own concerns about disclosure following a damaging disclosure in the United Kingdom (NSUK) resulting from a parliamentary inquiry. The move to table comes after a term of unsteady and halting progress, with no final proposal ever nailed down.
The resurgent interest in FOIA reform came with the March 2022 General Election, where multiple candidates expressed interest in exploring and reforming disclosure laws. Senate Speaker Olde Delaware and other candidates including Gem and Pathoal addressed FOIA reform or mentioned FOIA reform in their platforms.
After the Senate was seated, the Speaker’s amorphous FOIA proposal had several iterations. At the start of the term, Speaker OD proposed a FOIA framework that included a blanket exemption for any documents from the past decade and disclosure through the Organization for Independent Media and a new position within the University. A few weeks into the term, the Speaker said he was “not sure adding a new office to the fray is the best way to move forward anymore."
Former President Common-Sense Politics was opposed to FOIA reform, so the Speaker pledged to work with the new executive administration on the issue following the April 2022 elections. However, President Writinglegend confirmed to the EBC that the Speaker never reached out to him on the FOIA issue. No comprehensive proposal was ever finalized, and the Senate was never presented with legislative language.
In the Senate By-Election to replace newly elected Vice President Sincluda, both candidates mentioned FOIA reform. Candidate McEntire had published an EBC op-ed calling for the creation of a new agency tasked with government research and disclosing secure threads.
The Senate’s approach to FOIA reform did not poll well in the EBC Senate Midterm poll, and with McEntire's defeat in the by-election, momentum on the legislation stalled. When the Europeian Broadcasting Corporation reached Speaker Olde Delaware for comment regarding his motion to table, he pointed to the disclosures in NSUK last week and logistical concerns with the bill, saying:
The first [reason] being that with any foreign affairs realignment and pivot to handle a threat anything that can shed a light on how we make decisions and come to those that we make could be used and abused by our enemies and/or their agents. Second, while there was some public support there was overwhelming concerns from not only citizens but public officials who would have to carry out the declassification, etc. Euro has at this moment over one million posts, probably 100,000 alone are hidden behind inaccessible walls. That's a mountain and I can understand their concerns on trying to tackle that.
Transparency in government has long been a rallying cry for reformers in Europeian politics. In a 2014 discussion on the issue, early Europeian politicians noted they “despise groups of the elite getting together for secret meetings and discussion like the EAAC. I think there should be more transparency.” But others were concerned about how FOIA could impact domestic politics - Rach said ”the issue for me with a freedom of information act is that it's going to be Go Fish and can be used for political effect by insiders.”
Historically, there have been mechanisms by which Executives can disclose or declassify information kept in secret forums, such as 21 Tomlinson. The most recent disclosure was a result of a private media request. Following that disclosure, the Speaker revealed he “asked [President Common-Sense Politics] if he would be willing to declassify things from say 2007 for example once they were scrubbed of anything still being used, [and] was told flat out no.”
Denied disclosures, stalled bills, a lackluster reception with the general public, and the negative consequences of the NSUK private conversation leak were all factors that led to the death of the FOIA reform effort. Speaker Olde Delaware was still optimistic about FOIA reform, and pointed to McEntire's op-ed as a "really good scaffold to build from when/if we revisit FOIA." With the Senate election fast approaching - May 20th - it remains to be seen whether FOIA reform will once again take center stage. If past is prologue, candidates may not be chomping at the bit to take up the mantle on this issue.