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Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that enables members of the public to request records from federal agencies. 

The following information is an overview of the FOIA process at the FEC and is provided solely as guidance.

Accessing records without a FOIA request

The FEC is a disclosure agency. The Commission therefore routinely places numerous categories of records on the public record.

Because these records are made publicly available pursuant to other statutory provisions, the FEC generally will not process these requests under FOIA. To obtain information that is not routinely available, members of the public should file a FOIA request.

The following documents are included within the categories of records routinely made publicly available:

  • Campaign finance reports are placed on the public record within 48 hours of receipt at the FEC.

    Explore campaign finance data »

  • Because the public has the right to know the outcome of any enforcement proceeding, redacted files for closed enforcement matters are made available to the public within 30 days after the parties involved have been notified that the entire matter has been closed.
    Search closed enforcement cases »

  • The advisory opinion archive contains advisory opinions from 1975 to the present. It also contains documents related to advisory opinions — such as requests, drafts and public comments — from 1990 to the present.
    Search or browse advisory opinions »

FOIA documents and the e-FOIA reading room

Subsection (a)(2) of the FOIA, as amended, requires agencies to make the following categories of records affirmatively available for public inspection in electronic format:

  • Final opinions, including concurring and dissenting opinions, as well as orders, made in the adjudication of cases
  • Statements of policy and interpretations which have been adopted by the agency and are not published in the Federal Register
  • Administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect a member of the public
  •  Copies of all records, regardless of form or format, that have been released to any person under the FOIA, and that the agency determines are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same records or have been requested three or more times

Public Records Office

Records are also available through the Commission’s FOIA Reading Room located within the Public Records Office in the FEC building. The reading room maintains an archive of:

  • Completed compliance actions, Alternative Dispute Resolution and administrative fine cases
  • Litigation and audit reports
  • Advisory opinion requests, public comments and final opinions
  • Commission memoranda, bulletins and directives
  • FEC newsletters and annual reports
  • Press releases
  • Federal Register Notices, public comments on proposed rulemakings and public hearing documents
  • Explanations and Justifications
  • Sunshine Notices, meeting agendas, agenda documents and minutes and audio tapes of past Commission meetings

The Public Records Office is open daily during normal business hours for public inspection and photocopying. Members of the public may request any matters of public record by contacting the Public Records Office.

Representatives of the media may request matters of public record by contacting the Press Office.

Making a FOIA request

Writing a request

Under FOIA, you may request access to records held by the Federal Election Commission. However, FOIA does not require the FEC to do research, to analyze data, to answer written questions or to create records in response to a request. When making a FOIA request, the requestor must comply with the FEC regulations implementing the FOIA, which are found at 11 CFR 4. In addition, all requests must be in writing.

In order for the FEC to efficiently process a FOIA request, include the following information in a request:

  • Requestor's name
  • Date of the request
  • “Freedom of Information Act Request” prominently written on first page of the request and on the outside of the mailing envelope or in the subject line of the email
  • A description of each record sought in sufficient detail that FEC staff will be able to locate responsive records with a reasonable amount of time and effort
    For example:
    • Approximate date the requestor believes records were created or date for which records are being sought
    • Title or name of document
    • Author of document
    • Recipient of document
    • Subject matter of the record
  • Requestor's willingness to pay fees
    • For example, a willingness to pay all applicable fees, willingness to pay up to a specified amount for fees or a request for a waiver or reduction of fees
  • Sufficient contact information so that FEC staff can contact the requestor during normal business hours if clarification of a request is necessary
    • Include: Daytime telephone number, email address and mailing address

Submit a request by email, fax or mail:

Fax

202-219-1043

Mail

Federal Election Commission
Attn: FOIA Requester Service Center
Room 408
999 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20463

Sample request letter

Date

Federal Election Commission
Attn: FOIA Requester Service Center
Room 408
999 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20463

Re: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request

Dear Sir / Madam:

This is a request for records under the Freedom of Information Act [or Privacy Act]. I am requesting records created or dated between the dates of ______ and ______. Specifically, I am requesting documents that relate to ____.

For the purposes of determining what, if any, fees may be assessed in connection with the processing of this request, I am [choose the appropriate category below:]

requesting the records for commercial use;
affiliated with an educational or noncommercial scientific institution requesting records for a scholarly or scientific purpose and not for commercial use;
a representative of the news media requesting records as part of a newsgathering effort. I am affiliate with ___;
an individual seeking information for personal use and not for commercial use.
I am willing to pay fees for this request up to a maximum of $____. Please inform me if the estimated fees will exceed this limit before processing my request.

[Optional] I request a waiver of all fees for this request. Disclosure of the requested information to me is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to the public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily my commercial interest. [Include a specific explanation.]

If you have any questions regarding this request, my daytime telephone number is ___. My email address is ____. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

_________________
Your name
Your street address
Your city, state, and zip code.

Fees

FOIA allows agencies to charge fees for their research and reproduction services under certain conditions.  Also, note that each FOIA request should specify the amount of FOIA fees the requestor is willing to pay. If the Commission estimates that search or duplication charges are likely to exceed $25.00, it will notify the requestor of the estimated amount of the fee before completing the search unless the requestor has indicated in advance a willingness to pay a fee as high as that estimated by the Commission.

If you believe that you qualify for a waiver or reduction in the fee payment under the provisions of the FOIA, you must state this in writing in your initial request. You must provide the FEC with the specific reasons why the fees should be waived or reduced.

Time for response

The FEC will endeavor to respond to your request within twenty (20) business days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays) from the date the FOIA Service Center receives your request and will determine whether to disclose or deny the records sought based on the FOIA. As mentioned above, there are nine statutory FOIA exemptions that authorize the withholding of information in certain specific circumstances. If the FEC withholds information requested in whole or in part, the response you receive will:

  • Indicate the exemption(s) claimed,
  • Describe what the exemption(s) cover and
  • Explain the procedures for appealing the denial.

If you need a response to your request before twenty business days, you may request expedited processing of your FOIA request. You must certify in writing that there is a compelling need for such processing. Examples of compelling need include: an imminent threat to someone’s life of physical safety and a member of the media’s urgent need to inform the public of some actual or alleged Federal government activity. Your statement indicating a compelling need must certify that your reasons are true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief. The FEC Requester Service Center will notify you of its decision to expedite your request within ten days after receiving your request. If your request to expedite is granted, the FEC will process your request as soon as practicable. If your request to expedite is denied, you have the right to administratively appeal the denial to the Commission.

Get help and leave feedback

The Commission's Chief FOIA Officer is Gregory R. Baker. The Commission's FOIA Public Liaison is Katie Higginbothom.

For questions about the status of a FOIA request, please contact:

FOIA Requester Service Center
Federal Election Commission
Attn: Candace Salley
Room 408
999 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20463

If you still have questions, contact:

FOIA Public Liaison
Katie Higginbothom
Room 402
999 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20463
(202) 694-1650

The FEC is continually assessing and trying to improve its compliance with FOIA. Share any compliments, comments, concerns or suggestions for improving the FOIA process with the FOIA Requester Service Center at FOIA@fec.gov.

Please provide the following information:

  • Your name
  • Your mailing address or email address and telephone number
  • The FOIA tracking number assigned to your request, if applicable
  • Any information that will help the FEC improve its FOIA response process

FOIA and the law

FOIA is codified at Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552. The FEC’s implementing regulations of the FOIA are located at 11 CFR 4. For more comprehensive information on FOIA, refer to the statute and to the regulations. Should any information contained within this overview conflict with the law or the agency’s regulations implementing FOIA, the language of the statute and of the regulations govern.

FOIA provides individuals with the right to obtain access to federal executive branch agency records, except to the extent that those records (or portions of them) are protected from public disclosure by one of nine exemptions or by one of three exclusions.

The nine exemptions are:

  • Classified Matters of National Defense or Foreign Policy: 5 U.S.C. §552(b)(1) exemption
  • Internal Personnel Rules and Practices: 5 U.S.C. §552(b)(2) exemption
  • Information Specifically Exempted by Other Statutes: 5 U.S.C. §552(b)(3) exemption
  • Trade Secrets, Commercial or Financial Information: 5 U.S.C. §552(b)(4) exemption
  • Privileged interagency or Intra-agency Memoranda or Letters: 5 U.S.C. §552(b)(5) exemption
  • Personal Information Affecting an Individual’s Privacy: 5 U.S.C. §552(b)(6) exemption
  • Investigatory Records Compiled for Law Enforcement Purposes: 5 U.S.C. §552(b)(7) exemption
  • Regulation of Financial Institutions: 5 U.S.C. §552(b)(8) exemption
  • Geological and Geophysical Information Concerning Wells: 5 U.S.C. §552(b)(9) exemption