Abuse of Government

FGI Sues EPA to Uncover Frank Biden’s Potential Influence over Environmental Justice Issues

Did Frank Biden use his family name to incite government actions that would likely benefit an ongoing legal action from his employer?

May 2, 2023

(Washington, DC) – Today, the Functional Government Initiative (FGI) announced a transparency lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for withholding records regarding potential communication between Frank Biden and associates at the Berman Law Group, his employer. The FOIA request also sought related records on the practice of sugar cane field burning during harvest, the subject of a class action effort spearheaded by Mr. Biden’s employer.

Environmental activists have latched on to sugar cane field burning as a reason to demand the government lower the already controversial National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The Berman Law Group, where Frank Biden is a non-attorney senior advisor, ran a newspaper ad on President Biden’s Inauguration Day, promoting a class action lawsuit against Florida sugar cane growers, claiming that the controlled sugar cane field burns were affecting the health of nearby residents. Frank Biden’s promoting his firm while invoking his family name raises questions as to whether there were also communications with federal regulators that could bolster the prospects of its class action and, if so, whether those communications resulted in inappropriate political pressure being placed on career officials.

Powerful environmental special interest groups, including the Sierra Club and others, have touted their support of the same issues involved in the President’s brother’s work. With the EPA considering stricter NAAQS standards at the same time as the Department of Justice opening up a new litigation office to target private sector actors over environmental justice concerns, the situation raises the question of whether Frank Biden’s personal financial interests are playing any role in the government’s policy and litigation efforts. The records FGI requested would allow public scrutiny and bring transparency to several major government actions fraught with ethics landmines. At this stage in FGI’s transparency efforts, the government’s non-response has made litigation the only option.

Peter McGinnis, spokesman for FGI, issued the following statement:

“The combination of Berman Law Group’s class action lawsuit and the administration’s environmental justice initiatives raise potential ethical concerns. We already know that Frank Biden invoked his relationship with his brother in an ad for his employer. Did he, his colleagues, and their special interest allies do the same with any communications with regulators whose actions could impact their case? Is the DOJ getting in on the act by preparing to file litigation against the same sugar industry players at the center of Frank Biden’s class action effort? The withheld records could likely assist the public in assessing whether these concerns are warranted.”

FGI Files Suit Against DOJ for Records on Covering Lois Lerner and Holly Paz’s Legal Bills

Taxpayers may be footing the legal bills of IRS officials at the center of targeting scandal

April 18, 2023

(Washington, DC) – Today, the Functional Government Initiative (FGI) announced a transparency lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) for withholding records regarding billings by or payments to the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson LLP for attorneys’ fees or other legal costs relating to the representation of Lois Lerner and Holly Paz, officials at the center of the political targeting scandal at the IRS.

The violations of numerous IRS rules and the constitutional rights of Americans were documented extensively, including in a staff report from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, settlements in lawsuits, and an FBI investigation. In 2013, Lerner, then-acting IRS Director of Exempt Organizations, even appeared to apologize for inappropriately targeting conservative groups during a meeting of the American Bar Association. In NorCal Tea Party Patriots, et al. v. The Internal Revenue Service, et al., Lerner and Paz, her top aide and former IRS Director of the Office of Rulings and Agreements, were represented by the law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Taxpayers may have been on the hook to pay her legal bills even after it became clear that Lerner was likely involved in misconduct, after she refused to testify, and after multiple settlements between the federal government and outside parties pertaining to her conduct. Those legal bills might still be covered by the taxpayers as Lerner has continued fighting to keep records sealed from the decade-old scandal.

In July 2022, FGI filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records regarding the DOJ’s billing and payment records for attorneys’ fees or other legal costs relating to the representation of Lerner and Paz. After multiple delays, the DOJ has been unresponsive, prompting FGI to file suit to get these records. With the IRS making a visit to Matt Taibbi’s home at the same time he testified before Congress about government abuses, it appears the weaponization of the IRS may be continuing.

Peter McGinnis, spokesman for FGI, issued the following statement:

“Even after the IRS agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement related to the targeting scandal, it remains an open question if and for how long DOJ paid the bills. The American public has a right to know. FGI will continue its legal fight so that taxpayers can consider the appropriateness of such costs and the incentive it could provide to other federal officials at the center of misconduct.”


DHS failure to release records on delayed implementation of anti-fentanyl legislation draws lawsuit

DHS is keeping records from the public regarding their failures to put 2018 law to work

October 3, 2022

(Washington, DC) – Today, the Functional Government Initiative (FGI) announced transparency litigation against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for failing to release records regarding the Synthetics Trafficking Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act and its implementation.

In October 2018, the bipartisan STOP Act was signed into law to reduce the flow of opioids and other illegal drugs into the United States through the U.S. Postal Service, which had become an easy target for traffickers seeking to evade law enforcement. As America’s opioid epidemic harms millions of American families and remains a leading cause of overdoses in the United States, implementation of the STOP Act has appeared to stall. Bureaucratic delays and missing deadlines for almost four years has raised questions about the commitment by DHS to prioritizing the fight against fentanyl trafficking and the opioid crisis afflicting a growing number of Americans.

Elected officials from both sides of the aisle have called the opioid crisis a public health emergency, yet DHS has taken little action to implement the law meant to fight it. Along with slow walking implementation of the STOP Act, DHS’ lax illegal immigration policies have created another crisis at the southern border that has likely exacerbated the opioid crisis. The wishes of Special interest groups pushing for open borders appear to trump concerns over a years-long opioid crisis devastating American families. It’s clear from the agency’s response that taking DHS to court is the only way FGI will be able to pry loose records shedding light on the failure to act on this important issue.

Peter McGinnis, spokesman for FGI, issued the following statement:

“The inability of DHS to finalize regulations and fully implement a bill that would help stop the flow of illegal opioids into the United States is astonishing and frankly disappointing. With each passing day, more and more Americans lose their battle with addiction while Secretary Mayorkas and his senior leadership prioritize the open border and censorship of Americans. This is the epitome of dysfunctional government. The public deserves answers on why implementation of the STOP Act is not a priority and when we can expect them to start recognizing the importance of fighting the opioid crisis.”


IRS Brings Back Former Lerner Boss and Tea Party Targeting Team Member

Nikole Flax will be head of IRS office that will hire 87,000 new agents

September 2, 2022

(Washington, DC) – The Functional Government Initiative (FGI) expressed its concern over the assignment of an individual associated with an IRS targeting scandal to head the office overseeing the office in charge of the 87,000 new IRS agents. Reports that Nikole Flax, who was chief of staff to the IRS commissioner who was fired in the wake of the Tea Party targeting scandal, are sure to stoke fears that these new agents may be used to harass low- and middle-income taxpayers and those identified for political reasons. Contrary to the promises that no one who earns less than $400,000 a year will pay more taxes, the Congressional Budget Office analysis indicates at least $20 billion of the $124 billion in increased tax revenues projected to be gained from these additional agents will come from low- and middle-income Americans.

During the Tea Party targeting scandal, the IRS was forced to pay millions in settlements for improperly denying and slow-walking applications for nonprofit status from conservative groups. Flax was part of the group of IRS employees whose emails inexplicably disappeared due to hard drive crashes as Congress investigated. FGI has submitted numerous requests to obtain information regarding the previous IRS targeting scandal, as well as the proposal to beef up the IRS. In the case of one Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the IRS bizarrely responded that it had “no records” discussing the proposal to add 87,000 new agents to its workforce and $80 billion to its budget.

Peter McGinnis, spokesman for FGI, issued the following statement:

“It’s fascinating, and indicative of the level of dysfunction in government, that the same folks who were part of the Tea Party targeting 10 years ago would be tasked with managing a controversial program with such a tremendous potential for abuse. At the very least, this move is tone-deaf. Most certainly, it serves to heighten the fears that the amping up of the IRS may result in a repeat of the earlier scandal.”


CFPB sued over records related to attempted takeover of FDIC

FGI seeking to discover where this takeover originated and what special interests were involved

July 14, 2022

(Washington, DC) – Today, the Functional Government Initiative (FGI) announced transparency litigation against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to compel the release of records regarding an attempted CFPB takeover of the independent Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

CFPB Director Rohit Chopra, also a board member of the FDIC, made unprecedented moves to undermine the longstanding independence of the FDIC. Chopra, a former Obama political appointee and a former member of Hillary Clinton’s transition team, attempted to circumvent the authority of Chairman McWilliams, including while she was on a nine-hour flight for FDIC business. After receiving a draft document produced by career employees and subject matter experts, Chopra again attempted to force a vote of the FDIC board on a controversial proposal related to bank mergers. Even the FDIC’s Office of General Counsel informed Chopra that his procedural maneuvers violated the by-laws of the FDIC and were not valid.

At its inception, the FDIC was designed to operate as an independent agency largely immune to the changing policies of new administrations. However, this attempted takeover broke nearly 90 years of tradition and may undermine the independence of other independent agencies across the US government. Whether this abolition of long-standing tradition originated from the White House or outside special interests remains an open question.

In January 2022, FGI opened an investigation, seeking documents about the CFPB’s role in the controversy, the long-standing authority of the FDIC chair, and the origins of this attempted FDIC takeover. The records FGI seeks, which the CFPB appears to be hiding, could provide some answers.
Initially, CFPB appeared to be willing to work with FGI but then abruptly ceased all communications, leaving FGI no other choice to but to file suit against CFPB.

Peter McGinnis, spokesman for FGI, issued the following statement:

“Trying to force independent agencies to function as partisan rubber stamps violates the historic norms of how these agencies were designed to function. Director Chopra’s attempt to takeover and turn the FDIC into a political tool is not only a threat to the FDIC itself but also an attack on the objectivity of other independent federal agencies. The American people deserve to know whether this coup was by Mr. Chopra’s own design or a calculated effort by the White House or outside special interests.”



By Emily Bevard (Georgia Business Daily)

April 19, 2022

Monday, April 18, was Tax Day here in the U.S. — a day Americans give the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) information about their sensitive financial matters, expecting the IRS to keep such information private. But in light of recent scandals at the IRS, the Functional Government Initiative (FGI) is concerned about the possibility of Americans’ private information being leaked.

In a release Monday, FGI Spokesperson Peter McGinnis noted that accountability begins with transparency, which the group is still waiting to obtain through their many requests to the IRS. FGI has launched multiple investigations into scandals associated with the IRS in recent years, pressing the agency for accountability.

“Tax Day may not be a fun day, and it certainly isn’t a cheap day, but it shouldn’t be a scary day,” McGinnis said in the release. “Yet with leaks of sensitive data, targeting of organizations based on their politics and an unprecedented power grab for more authority and IRS agents, this Tax Day should remind every American of the need for accountability at the IRS.”

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By Laurie A. Luebbert (North Carolina Business Daily)

April 18, 2022

Considering that Americans have to provide sensitive and private financial information to the IRS, Tax Day (Monday this year) is becoming more of a concern.

The possibility of the IRS leaking private information looms for many, including the Functional Government Initiative (FGI). Against that backdrop, the group has opened investigations in an effort to achieve transparency from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

“Tax Day may not be a fun day, and it certainly isn’t a cheap day, but it shouldn’t be a scary day,” Peter McGinnis, spokesperson for the FGI, told North Carolina Business Daily. “Yet, with leaks of sensitive data, targeting of organizations based on their politics, and an unprecedented power grab for more authority and IRS agents, this Tax Day should remind every American of the need for accountability at the IRS.”

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Interior: Release of Twin Metals records to FGI not in public interest

Interior places obstacles to release of Twin Metals records in formal response letter to FOIA request

April 28, 2022

(Washington, DC) – This past week, the Department of the Interior (DOI) responded to the Functional Government Initiative regarding our investigation into the cancellation of the Twin Metals leases near the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. DOI determined that FGI’s request for records surrounding the cancellation would not enhance the public’s understanding of the agency’s controversial decision.

The stunning claim came in the context of a request for a fee waiver under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Under FOIA, government agencies are not allowed to charge fees when the release of documents is “in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of government operations or activities.” This past week, Interior determined that releasing documents related to Twin Metals to FGI does not qualify, opening the door for Interior to hide the documents from the American people unless FGI agrees to pay ransom in the form of exorbitant fees.

The current Administration has made no secret of the fact that fighting climate change is one of their top priorities. However, they remain extremely inconsistent in their policy decisions surrounding the issue. One day they are handing out billions in new taxpayer loans and subsidies for electric vehicles (EV) and restricting federal approval of new pipelines, but the next day they are tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and calling hostile foreign dictators to establish new lines of oil delivery. The shortage of critical minerals necessary to build wind turbines, solar panels, and EV batteries for the “great transition” has been well-publicized. It’s also well-established that we are overly reliant on China for many of these minerals.

Enter Twin Metals, one of the largest critical minerals mines in the country. If allowed to be developed, the mine could greatly reduce America’s long-term shortage of critical minerals and further the Administration’s renewable energy goals. The site sits on an estimated 95 percent of America’s nickel reserves and 88 percent of its cobalt reserves.

By canceling these leases, as the Department of the Interior did earlier this year, the government is forcing domestic EV companies to rely on China for the extraction of these essential minerals. China currently controls an estimated 85 percent of the global supply of these minerals. In light of the President’s recent invoking of the Defense Production Act to aid domestic production and ostensibly advance just this type of project, it is mystifying why Secretary Haaland and senior leaders at Interior and USDA have made the decisions they did. The bottom line is that with consequences as detrimental as these, allowing the public to review the records on the Interior Department’s actions on the Twin Metals mine is most certainly in the public’s interest.

Peter McGinnis, spokesman for FGI, issued the following statement:

“Interior’s suggestion that releasing the records surrounding the cancellation of the Twin Metals leases to FGI is not in the public’s interest is extremely concerning given the magnitude of Secretary Haaland’s decision. By seeking to impose fees for documents produced by public servants, on public time, and with public resources, the agency is throwing up unjustified barriers to the public learning which special interests stopped the domestic production of much-needed critical minerals. In the meantime, China seems to be the primary beneficiary. FGI is appealing this decision and will notify the public as we actively fight for transparency.”


Report: IRS Has ‘No Records’ on Proposal to Increase Funding for More Agents

By Paul Bois (Breitbart)

April 21, 2022

Conservatives readied their battle stations in 2021 when President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan included a provision to require banks to give information to the IRS on accounts with $600 or more in annual transactions. The policy would have also applied to peer-to-peer apps like Venmo, CashApp, and Zelle.

At the time, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the proposal would close a $7 trillion tax gap over the next decade.

“The proposal involves no reporting of individual transactions of any individual,” Yellen told CBS News. “The big picture is, look, we have a tax gap that over the next decade is estimated at $7 trillion. Namely, a shortfall in the amount the IRS is collecting due to a failure of individuals to report the income that they have earned.”

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IRS: “No records” Analyzing or Discussing Proposal to Increase Agents and Reporting Requirements”

IRS claims no internal communications over controversial changes in Biden budget

April 20, 2022

(Washington, DC) – Earlier this year, the Functional Government Initiative (FGI) sought records surrounding the proposal to dramatically increase IRS agents and resources amidst political targeting and the leaking of sensitive financial data. A particularly controversial proposal, since abandoned, sought to impose a reporting requirement on US banks for accounts involving more than $600 in a year. Today, FGI announced an alarming new development in our investigation: the IRS stated they had no such records involving the request for more resources, new agents, or any analysis that would justify the controversial policy items.

The response from the IRS is not only surprising but also highly unusual for a large government agency requesting an additional $80 billion in taxpayer resources. Their response raises concerns about whether the IRS is behind an effort to withhold public records that could expose damaging internal reactions and analysis underlying the agency’s actions. Other implications are that the agency was left out of the analysis and projections submitted by high-ranking political appointees, leaving the IRS to defend policies they had no part in constructing. Either way, this situation is not an example of a functional government.

The formal response by the IRS opens the door to a multitude of questions surrounding an already controversial policy. Which agency, if any, conducted the analysis justifying the controversial bank reporting requirement to $600? Who at the IRS discussed this policy with Treasury or the White House? Were records properly kept under the Federal Records Act? It is FGI’s mission to shine a spotlight on government dysfunction and we will continue to do just that. FGI is appealing this response and will keep the public updated.

Peter McGinnis, spokesman for FGI, issued the following statement:

“It is astonishing and frankly unbelievable to hear that the IRS claims to have zero records on a budget request and controversial policy proposal personally defended by the Treasury Secretary, one linked to a price tag of $80 billion and more intrusion into Americans’ private bank records. Given the congressional scrutiny and media attention on these proposals, one would think that the IRS conducted a thorough review before rolling it out. Based on their response, the IRS essentially just told us that they had no hand in the review or implementation of a policy that would affect hundreds of millions of Americans. This is exactly the type of government dysfunction Americans are fed up with.”