NY Freedom of Information Law Put to Test (Updated)

Andrew Cuomo

Andrew Cuomo (D)

Barely three weeks after New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, sent an inflammatory and provocative letter to Chevron Corporation’s David J. O’Reilly, I sent a communication of my own. To Cuomo’s office.  That’s right, I decided to put the State of New York’s Freedom of Information Law (a.k.a., “FOIL”) to the test.

In his May 4 letter (pdf), Cuomo came precariously close to pronouncing the chairman and chief executive officer of the nation’s second-largest oil company “guilty” for his part in contesting a $27 billion class-action lawsuit filed against his company some 16 years by the Amazon Defense Coalition.

Because the initial judgment in the lawsuit could be handed down any day by an Ecuadoran judge, people like Cuomo are using props such as the letter to seize upon media interest in the case and grab their share of the case-related spotlight.

Though Cuomo would have you believe his chief concern lies in protecting the state’s pension funds which have more than $1 billion invested in Chevron, I’m not convinced that’s his only motive.  If Cuomo was truly interested in uncovering shenanigans related to people on both sides of the case, he would do what every good investigator does when it comes to investigating nonprofit organizations and follow the money.  But he has not.

Instead, he’s positioned himself squarely alongside Philadelphia trial lawyers — who, by the way, stand to turn a tidy profit if they win the case — and the over-the-top-zealous Ecuador-registered nonprofit, ADC. Perhaps he’s thinking about potential campaign contributions in 2010, 2012 and beyond.


In order to either ferret out possible mischief or put rumors of the same to rest, I opted to take advantage of the aforementioned FOIL.  Using the handy downloadable tool available on this page on the New York AG’s web site, I made the following request of Cuomo:

I request copies of all paper and electronic correspondence between Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and any and all representatives of the Amazon Defense Coalition with whom he communicated during the past 12 months.

According to the FOIL FAQ page on the New York AG’s web site, I should receive a response to my request within 20 business days — unless, that is, my request generates a large number of documents or there are other issues that complicate my request.  Then it might take more than 20 days to receive a response for which I should expect to pay 25 cents per page, excluding the first five pages which are free.

Though I suspect I should have been more specific in my request (i.e., I should have named names of individuals), I think this request should begin to shed light on the transparency-in-government trend that’s so chic these days among Democrats in high office.


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UPDATE 6/05/2009 at 10:45 a.m. Central: I received a reply to my FOIL request. Details are available in this post, NY AG Cuomo Tries to ‘FOIL’ Blogger’s Efforts, published today.

To learn more about the ADC’s spurious lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador, read these BMW posts.

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