The Knight FOI Fund exists to offer financial support in open government lawsuits. It was established to fuel and assist the pursuit of important FOI cases by helping to defray upfront costs such as filing fees, depositions, court costs and other expenses associated with legal actions. *Only in rare circumstances do Knight FOI Fund grant awards also include direct outlays for attorney fees.
Since it began in January 2010, the Knight FOI Fund has assisted NFOIC member organizations, their allies and other litigants with 81 grant awards totaling $175,000 in FOI or open government law violation cases. While some are still being adjudicated, the Knight Litigation Fund supported cases that resulted in 67 favorable court orders or settlements that achieved more transparency and greater access to public meetings and information.
Significant access victories in cases supported by the Knight FOI Fund have included:
- A California case that kept the nation’s largest public pension fund from hiding details of a $100 million real estate investment loss;
- A case that forced former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to release more than 8,000 emails;
- A Seattle-area public housing agency was required to institute a sweeping series of transparency measures inspired by persistence of an engaged public housing resident. The settlement resolves all claims related to open meetings, and required the agency to undergo open government law training by the Washington Coalition for Open Government.
- A first ever approval of the fund for attorney fees* to the Virgin Island Daily News in its lawsuit against the government’s Economic Development Authority’s withholding of financial records pertaining to its lending program to private developers
- A case involving a New Mexico state college that had declined to disclose records regarding building projects and a search for a new president.
- A Florida lawsuit that invalidated a March 2011 ballot referendum in St. Petersburg Beach on the grounds that the city commission made improper, closed-door decisions authorizing the citywide vote.
- Two federal cases including the 2016 United States Circuit Court in Sack v. DoD that extended “Educational Requester” status in federal FOIA petitions to all students seeking government information for educational purposes; and, the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Doe v. Reed and the subsequent disclosure orders on remand.
In addition to support for meritorious legal access cases under state and local public disclosure and open meeting laws, the Knight FOI Fund is also available to support litigants in anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) suits, SLAPP defenses, important appellate cases and federal FOIA cases where citizen and journalist access to important public record information may be enhanced.
NFOIC only seeks reimbursement, or any kind of recovery of the Knight FOI Fund investments, when litigants it supports win reimbursements for costs, fees or expenses through court victories or legal settlements.
The Knight FOI Fund continues to be an important tool to assist and fuel assertive legal advocacy for government openness. In a recent development to add additional strength to the Knight FOI Fund, in March 2015, the NFOIC and the Society for Professional Journalist combined war chests to fight for FOI. Both organizations also will use their combined national networks of journalists and citizens to apply public pressure to government agencies that flaunt the law.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950, the Foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote community engagement and lead to transformational change. For more, visit http://www.knightfdn.org/.