For Immediate Release
December 22, 2017
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Court Rules that Secretary Dunlap has Right to Participate in Election Commission
Ruling is Vindication for Maine Secretary of State's Lawsuit Seeking Access to PACEI Documents as a Member of the Commission
Washington, DC -- A federal judge ruled on Friday evening that Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap cannot be excluded from participating in the work of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (PACEI) on which he serves as a member.
“This ruling is a clear vindication of what I have fought for from the start: the right to participate in the important work of this commission and hopefully achieve an outcome that benefits the American people," said Sec. Dunlap. "I have always been confident that we are on the right side of the law, but unfortunately, through legal arguments and bombastic public statements, the commission’s leadership denigrated straightforward efforts to fulfill my responsibilities as a member of the commission. This decision sets the commission on a path of redemption, and my hope is that I and the other commissioners will finally be able to participate fully."
Click here to view the ruling.
The ruling from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia largely agreed with Sec. Dunlap's argument that he has a fundamental right as a member of the commission to participate in the commission's work and he must be given access to substantive commission documents. The order indicated that the court found it necessary to intervene given the commission's previous exclusion of Sec. Dunlap and noted that Sec. Dunlap had attempted to participate in the past.
The opinion rejected the arguments made by the PACEI that it could deny Dunlap access to certain documents, stating that the government's position was "indefensible" and "ignores the law."
Specifically, the opinion noted that Dunlap should have been granted access to, and given an opportunity to comment on, commission documents, including: the request for voter data sent to states in advance of the commission's June 28 teleconference; the proposals for location, time, and agenda of the commission's September 12 meeting; and any plans for a proposed December meeting and any witnesses to be invited. Sec. Dunlap had not been provided any such opportunities.
On November 9, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia – represented by American Oversight and the law firm of Patterson Belknap – to enforce his rights as a member of the PACEI.
The lawsuit alleged that the commission, led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, had violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) by denying Dunlap and other commissioners access to key documents and excluding them from much of the commission’s work. The Executive Office of the President (EOP) was also a named defendant, as the commission’s electronic records are believed to be maintained on the EOP’s computer network.
FACA requires the PACEI to provide all commissioners with equal information as the group makes decisions and conducts its inquiry. Dunlap had repeatedly sought access to commission records – including meeting materials, witness invitations, and correspondence with other commissioners – but had been rebuffed on each occasion.
Dunlap’s suit is based on the 1999 DC Circuit Court decision in Cummock v. Gore, in which the court held that commissioners may not be denied access to information.
The opinion issued on December 22, 2017 is HERE.
More background on Sec. Dunlap's lawsuit is HERE.
American Oversight is a non-partisan, nonprofit ethics watchdog committed to holding the government accountable. With congressional oversight lacking, American Oversight is stepping in to uncover and publicize information about malfeasance and corruption by administration officials. Follow us at @weareoversight and learn more at http://www.americanoversight.org.