Sunshine Week: This file is your file, this file is my file

By Greg LeRoy
March 19, 2021

Photo shows a helix, a potential design for Amazon's new campus in Virginia.
The Helix proposal designed for Amazon's campus in Arlington, Virginia. Photo: NBBJ

Your state and local government’s files on economic development subsidies are just that—your files.

Shame on any mayor or governor’s staff who would claim, as Indianapolis recently did, that its bid for Amazon’s HQ2 project was not a “final offer” and therefore not subject to Indiana’s open records law. (ICYMI, Hoosiers: that competition was settled more than two years ago.)

Shame on California for enacting a rare law that denies public access to unsuccessful subsidy bids. Just because the San Jose Mercury News embarrassed a long-ago gubernatorial administration by revealing that it considered giving the children of Intel executives immediate in-state residence status to qualify for cheaper University of California system tuition rates, that’s no reason to cover up decades of paperwork ever since.

Shame on those dozens of other places that never complied with open records requests from journalists cooperating at the Muckrock.com site that gathered so many Amazon HQ2 bid records. And shame on those governments that have in recent years become more compliant with Amazon as it tries to hide the costs of its subsidy packages (it is getting about 20 per year).

Such deadbeats are on the wrong side of history, and we should all take a minute to push back.

So grab a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) template from our friends at the National Freedom of Information Coalition and request a few things:

  1. If it hasn’t been disclosed, FOIA your local Amazon HQ2 bid.
  2. FOIA your city’s past 10 years of subsidy awards (such as property tax abatements or tax incrementing financing (TIF) districts), including all the records the city has on how the deals are panning out.
  3. FOIA the records of a high-profile deal that your city bid on, whether or not it won the deal.

And share on social media the kinds of responses you get. Delays? Outrageous fees? Heavy redactions? We’d also love to know.

#SunshineWeek is every week!  Let it shine!

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