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By Ethan Barton
Federal Election Commission (FEC) officials have withheld public documents for years, some of which would expose details about Democrats’ taxpayer- and foreign-funded travel, The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group has learned.
The FEC — which includes three commissioners each from Democratic and Republican parties — has withheld records related to 17 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed more than three years ago, according to an agency document obtained by TheDCNF. Of the 17, 10 have been pending for nearly four years, another will be five this year and the oldest turned six in June.
The requested documents span a variety of topics, ranging from communications regarding former FEC official Lois Lerner, the central figure in the IRS targeting scandal, to internal communications and commission policy documents.
Four unfulfilled requests, including the oldest, seek records related to FEC commissioners’ travel. These documents are especially relevant because of a recent report showing the Democratic members of the commission have taken at least 50 trips funded by foreign groups, governments and U.S. taxpayers since 2002.
Additionally, foreign groups funded overseas travel for Democratic FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub who recently proposed a plan to defend against foreign influence in U.S. elections following allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential contest, TheDCNF previously revealed.
None of the current Republican commissioners have taken such trips.
Weintraub also took a tax-paid $9,200 trip to Indonesia that an FEC itinerary showed included a five-day gap between official events.
Some documents requested have been released, but none of the travel related-FOIA requests have been completely fulfilled. The withheld documents could reveal additional trips or more detailed information, such as the cost, scheduled events or an itemized breakdown of expenses.
The oldest FOIA request – filed in June 2011 – sought correspondence between the Democratic commissioners serving at the time and outside entities. The FEC is waiting for consultation with the Department of State before releasing the documents, according to an April FOIA log.
“We’d refer you to the Federal Election Commission for information pertaining to FOIA requests submitted to their agency,” a Department of State official told TheDCNF.
A portion of those records have been released and showed that they deal, at least in part, with foreign travel.
A May 2015 FOIA request sought two-years of travel documents pertaining to then-FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel. Some records were released, but the request is still “[p]ending with FOIA Office,” according to the log.
News outlets have reported some information regarding the Democrat’s travel, but the withheld records could produce additional insight.
Ravel, for example, took two foreign-funded trips to Brazil and three domestic trips to give speeches and attend panels at various colleges across the country between 2015 and 2016, The Washington Free Beacon previously reported. Ravel took another five international trips between October 2013 and September 2014, according to The Blaze.
She also nixed a foreign-funded trip to Ecuador after facing criticism, the Free Beacon reported in February. In fact, Ravel had asked the FEC to hold a special session to vote on her travel request after having phoned in to regular meetings for two months prior.
A November 2015 FOIA request sought documents pertaining to the FEC commissioners’ international travel, and asked for specifics regarding Ravel and Democratic Commissioner Steven Walther’s trips to Colombia and Guatemala. This request is also pending with the State Department.
An October 2016 request similarly sought documents related to commissioners’ travel to the political conventions, as well as other records regarding Ravel, including her Colombia trip, correspondence with the White House, and other emails.
Those documents are partially pending in the FEC’s FOIA office and partially pending State Department consultation, according to the FOIA log.
TheDCNF asked the FEC if there were any updates to the April FOIA, which was treated like a FOIA request.
Ravel could not be reached for comment.