FOIA: political weapon, citizen tool

FOIA isn't something most people think about day in and day out. I remember the Virginia FOIA Council's Maria Everett once saying something to the effect of, "No one grows up wanting to be a FOIA geek." True that.

But it is funny to me, as a card-carrying FOIA geek, how FOIA suddenly becomes the best friend of elected officials when they realize it can be used to perhaps gore the other side's ox.

The most recent example of this phenomenon is that the state's Democrats are using FOIA to ferret out information about the money being spent on Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's lawsuit to have the recent health care reform package declared unconstitutional.

Last year, Republicans filed FOIA requests to flesh out then-Governor Kaine's travel schedule to see how much time (and possibly money) he was spending doing business as the chair of the Democratic National Convention.

FOIA can be, and is, used as a political weapon in the hands of partisan rivals.

Usually, though, it's simply a tool used by concerned citizens. Call it a flashlight that shines the light on the local planning commission's most recent meetings. Call it a shovel to uncover detailed spending records of a state agency. Call it a window on all of Virginia's state and local government.

Call it Virginia's Freedom of Information Act. And call me a proud FOIA geek.

-- Megan

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