The First Amendment Coalition awarded ProPublica its Free Speech & Open Government Award for “Trump Town,” a series of articles and a searchable database of 2,724 of President Donald Trump’s political appointees, along with their federal lobbying and financial records.
Led by ProPublica research reporter Derek Kravitz, news applications developer Al Shaw, research fellow Claire Perlman and researcher Alex Mierjeski, the project started with a simple question: Who is being appointed by the Trump administration to run federal agencies? After Trump took office, the White House said it was deploying 520 political appointees on so-called “beachhead teams” of temporary employees, but it would not release details about who they were or what offices they were working in.
In response, the ProPublica team launched an enormous fact-finding mission that involved filing more than 200 Freedom of Information Act and open-records requests, collecting staffing lists and publishing financial disclosure reports. When they couldn’t get the names of White House staffers, they partnered with The Associated Press and The New York Times to make a publicly accessible Google Drive folder to help crowdsource the missing names and review appointee documents. What they found: Dozens of obscure Trump campaign staffers, and people who have embraced conspiracy theories, had populated the government through hiring mechanisms meant for short-term political appointees, as well as Washington insiders who could be reasonably characterized as part of the “swamp” that Trump pledged to drain.
Since the publication of “Trump Town,” several appointees have resigned. Following pressure by Democratic senators calling for more transparency, in June the White House began releasing ethics waivers of its appointees.
“The task that ProPublica took on was enormous, to say the least — it fought and negotiated for access to public information every step of the way to shed light where light was needed,” said FAC Executive Director David Snyder. “Its work paid off and is a great example of just how important aggressive and meticulous investigative journalism is.”
Learn more about the Free Speech & Open Government Award here.