The Iowa Freedom of Information Council was organized in the fall of 1976 and formally incorporated in 1977 as a non-profit consortium of newspapers, radio and television stations, media associations, educators, publishers, broadcasters and others interested in openness in government and First Amendment rights. The Council is thus among the oldest, if not the oldest, of such statewide FOI organizations in the nation.
The Iowa Council was established primarily in response to increases in the amount and the costs of litigation involving the news media. The Council's by-laws still provide that it can serve as a voluntary assessment district to finance lengthy court battles that would benefit Iowans interested in open government. The Council also has created an Openness Defense Fund that is available to members of the Iowa Newspaper Association and Iowa Broadcasters Association to help finance lawsuits involving serious violations of the open meetings and records laws.
Over the years, however, the Council's work has been primarily educational in nature – acquainting journalists with the Iowa open records and meeting laws and conducting workshops for public officials and other citizens.
The Council publishes the Iowa Open Meetings, Open Records Handbook. The first edition was published in late 1978. That was soon after the Iowa Legislature had adopted a revised open meetings law to replace one that the Iowa Supreme Court found unconstitutional because of its combination of vagueness and criminal penalties.
The handbook is updated every two years and tens of thousands of copies have been distributed throughout Iowa, through county auditors' offices, the state ombudsman's office and journalism organizations.
The Council operates on an annual budget of about $17,000. Most of the funds are from sustaining members, who pay annual dues of $500, and from the Iowa Broadcasters Association, which annually contributes $4,000 to help support Expanded Media Coverage of Iowa's courts.
The Council presidency rotates each year among representatives of the founding organizations of the Council - the Iowa Broadcasters Association, the Iowa Newspaper Association and the Des Moines Register and Tribune Company. The Council's trustees come from these three groups, other sustaining members, two representatives of the working news media and from the journalism programs at Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and Drake University.
Professor Herbert Strentz of the Drake University School of Journalism and Mass Communication served as the Council's executive secretary from its founding until June 2000, when Kathleen Richardson, a former news editor of the Des Moines Register, took over the day-to-day duties of the Council.