I believe that a guarantee of public access to government information is indispensable in the long run for any democratic society…. if officials make public only what they want citizens to know, then publicity becomes a sham and accountability meaningless.
– Sissela Bok, philosopher and ethicist, 1982
Help FOG Hire an Attorney The FOG Legal Initiative
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Since 1989, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (“FOG”) has been shining a light on government in New Mexico, holding officials accountable and making certain public business is conducted in the sunshine. A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, FOG is the state’s leading advocate for freedom of information, a hallmark of democracy. FOG’s mission is to educate, advocate and litigate for open government, playing a vital role in protecting New Mexicans’ right to know–all on a razor-thin budget and a one-person staff.
Now FOG is taking a big step by raising funds to hire a full-time attorney, a move that will be a game-changer for transparency in New Mexico. FOG’s goal is to raise $300,000 in “seed” money, which will pay for a dedicated attorney for two years as well as establishing a reserve fund for future years. FOG believes that this position will become self-supporting through the award of attorney fees, court costs, statutory penalties and the development of an attorney referral network.
Transparency is more than a buzzword. As recent events have illustrated, our democracy hangs by a thread. It requires constant vigilance, well-informed citizens and a robust press using the tools of public documents and public meetings. How else can government officials be held accountable and responsive to the people they serve?
FOG’s full-time executive director oversees day-to-day operations answering daily phone calls on the organization’s free hotline, conducting seminars for citizens, journalists and government officials about how to obtain public records and gain access to public meetings and advocating for open government at the Roundhouse. However, much of FOG’s success has grown out of an outstanding panel of volunteer lawyers—pro bono attorneys who have remained tireless and tenacious in their pursuit of government accountability. On countless occasions throughout the year, the attorney panel—which collectively would cost FOG at least $1,200 per hour—convenes on conference calls or participates in email threads and high-level discussions concerning open government problems in New Mexico. They also draft appellate briefs, occasionally file lawsuits, draft correspondence and make phone calls to the public officials who prefer conducting public business behind closed doors.
FOG already has a solid track record in fulfilling its mission:
· Advocacy-– As an advocate for Open Government, FOG each year answers hundreds of calls on the Hotline—calls from journalists, citizens, and occasionally government officials on how best to follow the state’s sunshine laws. Every winter when the state legislature sits, FOG is at the Roundhouse advocating for important transparency legislation and blocking passage of measures to reduce transparency.
· Education–FOG enables civic engagement every day through educating citizens about their rights in regard to obtaining public records and attending public meetings. We also help journalists in uncovering public corruption and malfeasance, which could not occur without the press’s ability to examine public documents. At freedom of information bootcamps, FOG offers training to promote transparency and accountability at the local and state level. Also, FOG annually sponsors continuing legal education seminars aimed at providing updates to attorneys, public employees, and members of the public concerning changes in open government legislation and recent case law involving the state’s sunshine laws.
· Litigation— Litigation is usually a final step – but a crucial one. Our friend of court (amicus) briefs filed in the New Mexico Court of Appeals and Supreme Court have been instrumental in shaping transparency law in the state. When FOG speaks, the appellate courts listen. In its 31-year history, FOG has prevailed in all but one case.
Unfortunately, as a general rule FOG is unable to take cases at the district court level because of its reliance on volunteer lawyers. Having a staff FOG attorney in New Mexico would provide invaluable, swift assistance to all journalists and other transparency advocates who need same-day strategic phone calls or “lawyer letters.” Such an attorney will be positioned to nip access problems in the bud, avoid time-consuming litigation and allow journalists to meet deadlines, which ultimately benefits the public. But with an attorney on staff, we won’t be hesitant to file lawsuits, which sometimes is the only way to get the attention of public officials.
So what difference does FOG make? Our accomplishments are many and over recent years have made an impact on the environment, education, animal rights, law enforcement and police training, and secret settlements of government lawsuits. Just recently, a large city in the state hired a new superintendent of schools, a process conducted in the open thanks to FOG’s insistence over the years that applicants for public positions need to be made public. The recent abandonment of plans to dam the Gila River was aided by FOG’s assistance in releasing the technical data upon which government officials had wrongly relied to dam the Gila, the last free-flowing river in New Mexico.
Political pundits warn that the United States now is considered a vulnerable democracy. At the same time, under-resourced democracy-preserving institutions, like FOG, urgently need support. Action is needed now!
Please make a tax-deductible contribution to the FOG Legal Initiative today! Fund-raising will continue for the next 12 months. You can make a one-time gift or divide your donation into installments for each of the next two years. This support will form the core of financial support for the effort. We need you! Democracy needs you! You can make a difference!
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To donate online, click here. Monthly online giving always is available.
Checks may be made to:
New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (please designate the funds for the Legal Initiative)
Address: 2333 Wisconsin Street NE
Albuquerque, NM 87110