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Governor Quinn approves bill to delay FOIA requests

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The wait is over. On Friday last week, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law HB 1716, a bill that will restrict FOIA requests in Illinois. It is unfortunate that the governor chose to support a bill that clearly robs the public of their right to know about their government.

Earlier , we wrote about Illinois’ consideration of the bill and highlighted our efforts to encourage open government through our open letter and call tool campaign which prompted some positive changes in Maine  and Utah .

By choosing to punish so-called ‘recurrent requesters’ -- as this law surely will -- by delaying their requests, the governor is not only disappointing the open government advocates who thought of him as a “sunshine” sympathizer, but is also confirming the state’s reputation of going back on transparency promises. Indeed, an audit done in 2006 by the Better Government Association showed that an overwhelming 62 percent of Illinois’ government did not comply with Freedom of Information (FOI) laws, while a miserly 38 percent of public bodies were fully or substantially compliant.

Just like on the Federal level, lobbyists at state are equally if not more involvement in government legislature.

Last week, an article about Illinois’ local government use of lobbyists to fight transparency  using the public’s tax money discussed how lawmakers who usually start out as local government officials hate dealing with FOI. It goes without saying that any FOI-supporting legislation will be killed at inception by the legislators who didn’t like it in the first place (even when they had less power to do anything about it).

So it looks like FOI abuses such as the 2009 case of a taxpayer who crusaded for three and a half years and was denied information on the then-superintendent's employment contract will be the only saving grace for the state. The abuse later prompted a law reform, after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the superintendent's records were not exempted from FOIA.

But should Illinoisans and the rest of the public wait for other glaring abuses to rear their ugly heads before Freedom of Information is taken seriously? At Sunlight, we will continue to demonstrate our support for transparency -- even as our leaders bail on us, we still can hold them accountable and prove that though they may think this particular battle is won, the fight still goes on.