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How Corporations Suppress Disclosure of Public Records About Themselves

Transparency advocate Gary Ruskin wanted to know how the powerful food and agrochemical industries influence public universities and their research.

His small public interest consumer health watchdog organization, US Right to Know, started investigating the connections between the industries, their allies, and taxpayer-funded universities. Public records are a crucial tool Ruskin uses frequently to uncover the details of the university interactions with agrochemical companies.

“My hunch was that: in the interactions between universities and the agrochemical industry and its front groups, there would be industry secrets and there would be news, and there would be things that consumers and citizens should know. So, I filed the FOIAs, and then more FOIAs, and in the end I was right -- more than I could have imagined,” Ruskin told Freedom of the Press Foundation.

His numerous public records requests have produced documents that have exposed relationships between universities and companies like Monsanto, but the agrochemical industry is fighting to keep these ties secret.  

These requests include three filed with the University of Florida for communications between university employees and people associated with food pesticide companies. Ruskin received some, but not all, of the documents he asked for, in his requests for communications between the university and companies like Monsanto, so he filed a lawsuit against the University of Florida alleging violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law.

A retired University of Oklahoma professor who serves on the board of directors of an organization with ties to Monsanto, Drew Kershen, has intervened in the lawsuit. He argued in his motion for summary judgment, which was later denied, that the release of the documents requested, which include internal agrochemical industry email discussions, would violate his privacy.

Kershen filed a discovery request on January 17, 2018 to interrogate Ruskin about why the Yahoo! group emails should be considered public record, and why he filed the records requests in the first place.

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