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The Society’s Legal Defense Fund is a unique account that can be tapped for providing journalists with legal or direct financial assistance.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 3:36
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Legal Defense Fund

Jump to:
– Purpose of the Fund
– How to Request an LDF Grant
– Donate to the Legal Defense Fund
– About the NFOIC Knight FOI Fund/SPJ Legal Defense Fund partnership

The Society’s Legal Defense Fund is a unique account that can be tapped for providing journalists with legal or direct financial assistance. Application to the fund is approved by either a small committee or the national board, depending on the level of assistance sought. The committee works throughout the year raising funds for LDF. 

In March 2015, SPJ and the National Freedom of Information Coalition announced they would join forces — and legal war chests — to help citizens and journalists fight for public records.

Donate today
Help us fight important legal battles that protect the First Amendment with a one-time or monthly contribution to the Legal Defense Fund.


LDF in action: Your donations at work

Action speaks louder than words. See where your donation dollars go and read about the services the Legal Defense Fund has provided to journalists everywhere.


“SPJ and the Legal Defense Fund have provided precisely the support necessary to defend my wrongful arrest in Chicago. Without this financial backing there would be little chance of independent journalists like me to acquire competent representation to take on the resources available to local and state agencies that challenge our right to gather news. Journalists face extraordinary challenges while documenting news events. Having access to the SPJ network of professionals and the LDF is huge.”

— Mike Anzaldi, freelance photographer
Crime scene photographer finds himself on cops’ bad side [Chicago Tribune]

Purpose of the Fund

The Society of Professional Journalists collects and distributes contributions for aiding journalists in defending the freedom of speech and press guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. 

The primary role of the Legal Defense Fund is to initiate and support litigation that enforces public access to government records and proceedings, which can be the most expensive way to defend the First Amendment. The fund can also be a source of support for FOI hotlines, coalitions and newsletters, as well as for legislative lobbying activities aimed at enforcing public access to government records and proceedings.

Because of the partnership with NFOIC, court fees may also be covered. Both organizations also will use their combined national networks of journalists and citizens to apply public pressure to government agencies that flaunt the law.

All requests for money from the Legal Defense Fund will be weighed with special consideration for activities that will affect the most far-reaching and positive outcomes.

How to Request an LDF Grant

Download and complete one of the following:

– NFOIC/LDF application (if you wish to apply jointly for LDF and NFOIC funds)
– LDF application (if you wish to apply for LDF funds only)

Please state specifically the purpose for which you are seeking assistance. Be sure to apply any documentation you have to support your request. Note if you also wish to seek NFOIC funds. Please email the completed application to Mark Bailen at Mbailen@bakerlaw.com.

If your request is an emergency, call national headquarters at 317-927-8000 or call the chairs of either of the Society’s Legal Defense Fund or the Freedom of Information committees. Be prepared to email some documentation.

If you have questions before submitting your request, please email legaldefense@spj.org.

It may be helpful for you to first enlist the support of a local SPJ chapter president or regional director. National headquarters can supply names and phones numbers. 

Note: A six-person review committee can make decisions on financial requests of up to $5,000 at any time during the year. The Society’s board of directors must review any requests for more than $5,000. The group meets each year in April and October.


About the NFOIC Knight FOI Fund/SPJ Legal Defense Fund partnership

The Knight FOI Fund exists to offer financial support in open government lawsuits. It was established to fuel and assist the pursuit of important FOI cases by helping to defray costs such as filing fees, depositions, court costs and other expenses associated with legal actions.

The Society’s Legal Defense Fund is a unique account that can be tapped for providing journalists with legal or direct financial assistance. The primary role of the fund is to initiate and support litigation that enforces public access to government records and proceedings, which can be the most expensive way to defend the First Amendment.

Because of the partnership with NFOIC, court fees may also be covered. Both organizations also will use their combined national networks of journalists and citizens to apply public pressure to government agencies that violate the law.

The SPJ Legal Defense Fund was created in 1972 to fight for the First Amendment, primarily for public records and open meetings. Litigants apply for funds and the applications are considered by a six-member committee, aided by SPJ’s attorney. The committee can provide grants of up to $5,000, and larger amounts are considered by the SPJ Board of Directors. The fund has about $75,000 available, and is replenished by donations, interest and an annual auction. In 2014 the SPJ Board approved the creation of an endowed advocacy fund that can also be used for litigation. The endowment currently generates about $4,000 annually.

The Knight FOI Fund was created by NFOIC in 2010 through a grant from the Knight Foundation to help litigants fight for open government. The fund pays for court costs, filing fees, depositions and related expenses, typically $2,000-$3,000 per case. The fund, currently at $444,000, does not pay for attorney fees, nor dictate what attorney is used in the case. If the grantee wins his or her case, and receives an award, then the grantee must repay NFOIC making funds available for future cases.” A Litigation Committee decides the merits of applications.

As part of the partnership, SPJ and NFOIC will:
– Have staff and volunteers from both organizations solicit applications and monitor public record battles at the state and federal levels for worthy cases.
– Give priority to cases that a) have a strong legal basis, b) have the ability to establish good case law, and c) will help citizens and journalists, regardless of the profession of the plaintiff.
– Write or join amicus curiae briefs and/or intervene in cases where appropriate.
– Coordinate publicity and advocacy.
– Solicit other partners, when merited, such as state coalitions and other national access organizations.

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