The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a vital law that allows the public to obtain a wide range of government documents. As reporters, it’s one of our most powerful tools for holding the government accountable. At BuzzFeed News, it’s also one of the ways we earn the trust of our readers: by providing documents that let us show our receipts.
The process for securing these documents should be clear and swift — the government is allotted 20 days to determine whether or not to disclose records. But it’s no surprise that the government often stalls, avoiding compliance through obscure loopholes and flagrant delays. So what do we do when we hit a government roadblock? We go to court.
During Trump’s presidency, BuzzFeed News journalists filed 58 FOIA lawsuits — more than any other media organization in the US — to compel the government to abide by the law and turn over the documents. We aggressively sued the Justice Department to reveal the deeply guarded secrets of the Mueller investigation and forced the release of the criminal referral alleging the president committed crimes related to his phone call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, the conversation that sparked Trump’s impeachment. Amid the pandemic, we revealed that the FDA authorized two malaria drugs boosted by Trump to treat the virus based on threadbare evidence, and showed how deeply involved FEMA was in the government’s bungled response. After protests erupted across the country following the police killing of George Floyd, the Department of Homeland Security had to turn over hundreds of pages of documents showing how agents monitored protesters and prepared for battle. These victories are a testament to the dogged work of our reporters, the heroic work of BuzzFeed’s counsel, and the assistance of the attorneys at Loevy & Loevy and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
We believe this work is fundamental to our readers' understanding of our government, and necessary to our democracy. But pursuing FOIA lawsuits is expensive and time-consuming, particularly in 2020, as some agencies used the pandemic to justify cutting off responses altogether and to abruptly halt the processing of FOIA requests. But we didn’t stop fighting. Instead, we redoubled our efforts, because truth and transparency are even more critical in times of emergency and crisis. Last year, we spent more than $80,000 in legal fees to support our FOIA requests. This critical work is made possible, in part, by BuzzFeed News members, whose unwavering support of our journalism helps us hold powerful institutions accountable.
Now, in 2021, we want to do more to expose more government secrets that do not vanish with the Trump presidency. We plan to spend at least $100,000 fighting in court to throw open the government files and let the people see what their government is doing in their name.
From now until March 15, every BuzzFeed News membership sign-up or one-time donation will go toward our FOIA fund, which allows us to continue our aggressive pursuit of public records lawsuits.
These documents are essential to understanding this historic chapter of history, and we thank our members for helping us bring them to light.
Your support of BuzzFeed’s journalism does not constitute a charitable donation, and your contribution is not eligible for a tax-deduction. This is part of an effort to explore a deeper relationship with our most active supporters.