NEFAC, Media Organizations Argue for Public Access to Retailer Revenue Under Federal FOIA

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently argued for access to information about how much revenue retailers earn from the federal nutrition assistance program, SNAP.

NEFAC and 36 media organizations submitted on March 25 an amicus brief — drafted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media. (Read RCFP’s blog post on the case here.)

The case, to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next month, involves Exemption 4 of the federal Freedom of Information Act. The court’s decision could affect journalists throughout the country and in New England.

“FOIA is a powerful tool used by journalists, news organizations, and the public to monitor how the government spends tax dollars,” the organizations explained in the brief. “For example, journalists have used SNAP data to determine which private companies obtain the greatest benefits from government subsidies. Similar records also allow the public to understand which companies the government selects for lucrative contracts.”

Exemption 4 is typically used by agencies to prevent the release of trade secrets and confidential business information. The court’s decision will determine whether agencies can withhold from the public information that businesses have submitted to the government by claiming that the information has been otherwise kept private, or if the exemption only applies when substantial harm to a business’s competitive interest would occur from releasing the information.

NEFAC regularly files and joins amicus briefs in cases involving the First Amendment and the public’s right to know. The coalition recently argued against U.S. Dept. of Interior FOIA rules, for free access to police body camera footage in Vermont, for Massachusetts public records in aggregate form, for timely access to juror identities, for the right to private emails of government officials when they pertain to public business, for the freedom to record public police activity and for the preservation of anti-SLAPP laws.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC include the Hearst Connecticut Media Group, the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.