It has been nearly four months since the South Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments in the DomainsNewMedia.com v Hilton Head – Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.
The question before the court deals with whether the Chamber of Commerce is a public body and subject to the provisions of the S. C. Freedom of Information Act.
The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce (MBACC) filed an amicus curiae brief to the S. C. Supreme Court supporting the Hilton Head – Bluffton Chamber of Commerce position.
A Circuit Court judge in Bluffton County ruled in favor of Plaintiff DomainsNewMedia.com finding the Chamber is a public body within the definition of the law.
Actually, the law is quite straightforward. Section 30-4-20 of the S. C. Code of Laws defines a public body subject to the Freedom of Information Act as, “…any organization, corporation, or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds…”
The Hilton Head – Bluffton Chamber of Commerce receives accommodations tax money from the towns of Hilton Head and Bluffton as well as Beaufort County. The Chamber is the designated marketing organization for these governmental entities to expend the tax funds collected for tourism promotion.
The Chamber claimed before the Court that being the designated marketing organization for those public agencies did not negate its status as a private non-profit corporation not subject to FOIA.
The Chamber does provide a marketing budget and quarterly and year end reports for the public money to the governments involved.
In answer to a question from Justice Few about how a member of the public could find out specific information about the line items in the Chamber’s budget, the attorney for the Chamber suggested they would have to file a FOIA request with the town, who would then go to the Chamber for the specific information.
The argument was not that the public did not have a right to the information, it just didn’t have the right to request the information directly from the agency expending the funds, which is ridiculous.