Contact Your Senator to Pass FOIA Reform Bill, Urges AAN

june 21, 2007  03:54 pm
The OPEN Government Act of 2007, which would put teeth into the Freedom of Information Act, is being blocked by a single U.S. senator. But you can help get it passed.

The legislation original passed the U.S. House of Representatives in March by a healthy bipartisan majority of 308-117 (H.R. 1309). A companion bill (S. 849) was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee a few weeks later.

Under normal circumstances, the bill would be scheduled for debate and a vote on the Senate floor. But it has been sidelined by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who is using a Senate rule that allows one member with concerns to hold up legislation.

Kyl has emerged as the Senate's foremost champion of government secrecy. His recent efforts have included proposed-and-redacted-and-reintroduced changes to the 1917 Espionage Act, effectually creating an "Open Secrets Act," with broad definitions regarding penalties for unauthorized disclosure of government information related to terrorism.

Sen. Kyl's hold was anonymous until he was outed via an crowd-sourcing exercise organized by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Before Kyl's identity was revealed, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), an original co-sponsor of the bill along with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), wrote in a May 24 statement: “It is both unfortunate and ironic that this bipartisan bill, which promotes sunshine and openness in our government, is being hindered by a secret and anonymous hold. This is a good government bill that Democrats and Republicans alike, can and should work together to enact."

At this point, the only way to overcome Kyl's hold and to get the OPEN Government Act passed is to convince his Senate colleagues to put pressure on the Republican Senate leadership to allow a vote to be scheduled. And they're only going to do that if they hear from their constituents on the matter.

So AAN is asking member papers to get involved. Here's what you can do:
  • Contact the office of both of your senators and urge them to tell Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to allow the OPEN Government Act to get to the floor for a vote.
  • Ask your senators to become co-sponsors of the bill. (If they have already signed on as a co-sponsor -- see the list below -- thank them for supporting open government.)
  • Cover this important issue in your papers, and encourage your readers to call their senators with the same message.

Richard Karpel, executive director of AAN, acknowledges that covering federal legislation is not a usual step for "intensely local" alt-weeklies. "But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve FOIA," he states, "and if pressure isn't brought to bear soon, Sen. Kyl and the Bush Administration (which also opposes the bill) will have gotten away with subverting the will of an overwhelming bipartisan majority that supports this bill. The good news is that this is now a local issue that AAN papers can get behind. Their U.S. senators are the only people who can force Sen. Kyl to abandon his quest to keep the government closed. They need to hear from AAN members and their readers."

For more ways to get involved, contact Sunshine In Government's Rick Blum 703-807-2100, 202-309-2654 (cell), rblum (at)

AAN is a member of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition promoting accountable government and FOIA reform. Other members include the American Society of Newspaper Editors; The Associated Press; the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government; the National Association of Broadcasters; the National Newspaper Association; the Newspaper Association of America; the Radio-Television News Directors Association; the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; and Society of Professional Journalists.

Current Co-Sponsors of OPEN Government Act S. 849

  • Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
  • Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)
  • Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL)
  • Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI)
  • Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
  • Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)
  • Sen. Mary Landrieu D-LA
  • Sen. Bernard Sanders I-VT
  • Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA)