- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2014

A nonprofit group headed by a former top Iowa Republican Party official is suing the Treasury Department, saying the agency has ignored its request for records of a meeting between Treasury officials and the Democratic fundraiser and billionaire Tom Steyer.

The complaint, filed by the Patriots Foundation in U.S. District Court in Washington, doesn’t state who attended or why, but the gathering to talk about climate change was widely reported in June, with attendees including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Mr. Steyer and unnamed White House officials, among others.

The nonprofit group had sought the records months ago under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to “understand how this meeting influenced the policies of the department and the administration and to further an open and transparent government,” the complaint by the Patriots Foundation stated.

Since filing the request in June, however, the organization hasn’t heard anything from the Treasury Department despite a FedEx receipt stating that officials received the letter, according to the lawsuit.

Mr. Steyer is a major Democratic fundraiser. He’s made a dozen visits to the White House since 2009. The most recent came in late March to visit President Obama’s counselor to the president, John Podesta, according to the White House’s online database of visitor records.

The billionaire has pledged to spend up to $50 million to bring the issue of climate change to voters’ attention during the midterm elections in November, and The Associated Press reported that he’s donated nearly $26 million to his political action committee, NextGen Climate Action.

But Republicans criticized the meeting with Mr. Steyer when it became public in June, saying the administration had dragged its feet on the Keystone pipeline because of the billionaire donor’s well-known opposition to the project.

The White House defended the meeting: “I have no misgivings about individuals participating in that meeting. Their political activities notwithstanding, the administration is committed to making progress in addressing the cause of climate change and reducing carbon pollution,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in June. “That’s something Mr. Steyer has well-known views on, but there are a lot of other people with well-known views the White House is consulting.”

Most White House offices aren’t subject to federal open records laws, but the Treasury Department is and, under FOIA, agencies are supposed to acknowledge receipt of a request within 20 days.

Still, many offices fail to do so and face little consequence.

In 2012 the Project on Government Oversight sent out 100 FOIA requests to agencies across government for work-specific briefing materials produced by consultants, but 23 failed to respond to or acknowledge the requests within 20 days.

Asked about the lawsuit Monday, a Treasury spokesman said the agency doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation.

Craig Robinson, former political director for the Iowa Republican Party, is the president of the Patriots Foundation, according to an affidavit included in the court filings.

“Without disclosure of documents relating to the meeting between White house officials and Tom Steyer, the Patriots Foundation cannot fulfill its mission of educating the public by facilitating an open and transparent government,” he said in the affidavit.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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