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MBA encourages support of Montana Freedom of Information Hotline

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The Montana Freedom of Information Hotline Inc. is launching its 2017 fund drive and financial support from Montana’s news organizations is more critical than ever. As a member of the FOI Hotline Board, the MBA asks for your help in funding the FOI Hotline operations. In past years, the Hotline has relied heavily on annual operating fund grants from the National Freedom of Information Coalition to help fund its $11,000 budget. In 2015, however, the NFOIC stopped offering those grants. Since then, Montana’s media has stepped up and given generously to keep the Hotline up and running. In 2016, the Hotline was particularly fortunate to receive a $5,500 grant from the Lee Newspapers Endowment Fund of the Montana Community Foundation. We would be grateful for any contribution from you, but our suggested donations are $62.50 for weekly newspapers and radio stations, $125 for small daily/large weekly newspapers, $150 for TV stations, $250 for medium dailies, and $375 for large dailies.

The FOI Hotline’s single largest expense is retaining Helena attorney Peter “Mike” Meloy to provide expert, timely advice on access issues. Mike, a recipient of the Montana Free Press Award, responds to your reporters’ calls about everything from secret meetings to denial of access to public documents. In 2016, Mike responded to 223 inquiries, answering questions from 111 citizens and 112 print and broadcast journalists. Mike can be reached at 406-442-8670 — or by email at mike@meloylawfirm.com — or through the online query form at www.montanafoi.org. You can also find information on Facebook at: facebook.com/montanafoi/.

How much can the FOI Hotline save your news business? The going rate for 30 minutes of advice from an attorney is about $200. Your contribution to the Hotline gives your news staff unlimited access to a highly specialized public access attorney — at a bargain rate.

The Hotline offers a reporter’s wallet card and a brief guide to Montana’s FOI laws, available for download from the website, that were completely updated in 2016. I thank all of you, again, who donated extra money last year to help pay for the updating of both the FOI website and the FOI FAQ.

I know that budgets remain tight right now, but one of the main reasons we exist as journalists is to defend the public’s right to know and supporting the Hotline is a vital link to that effort. Please send your contribution to the Hotline Treasurer: Clemens P. Work, 5055 Huckleberry Road, Missoula, MT 59803. Or, if you wish to contribute using a credit card, please go to our website and click on the “donate” link on the upper right side of the Home page.