Do Democrats really want a fight over transparency?
posted at 9:16 am on April 17, 2012 by Ed Morrissey
Democrats launched a new attack front yesterday against Mitt Romney, pulling together this two-minute clip of media reports on Romney’s taxes, wealth, and some off-the-cuff comments about bureaucratic consolidation made to a dinner fundraiser last week in order to argue that Romney is, er … super-secretive. Democrats want to make transparency their big issue for this fall, which tells you all you need to know about how their economic arguments will be received:
Really? The DNC wants to have a fight over transparency? Apparently, the RNC is ready for it, as they also launched a new web ad after watching yet another Obama administration official take the Fifth Amendment before Congress rather than testify on their participation in yet another scandal:
And how about in other areas of transparency — say, perhaps, the critical area of the Freedom of Information Act? Six weeks ago, Politico quoted Washington attorney Katherine Meyer, who has worked FOIA cases for over 30 years, and her assessment of the Obama administration:
“Obama is the sixth administration that’s been in office since I’ve been doing Freedom of Information Act work. … It’s kind of shocking to me to say this, but of the six, this administration is the worst on FOIA issues. The worst. There’s just no question about it,” said Katherine Meyer, a Washington lawyer who’s been filing FOIA cases since 1978. “This administration is raising one barrier after another. … It’s gotten to the point where I’m stunned — I’m really stunned.”
Meyer’s not the only person complaining, either:
Open-government advocates say some administration practices are actually undercutting Obama’s goal. Among their complaints:
• Administration lawyers are aggressively fighting FOIA requests at the agency level and in court — sometimes on Obama’s direct orders. They’ve also wielded anti-transparency arguments even bolder than those asserted by the Bush administration.
• The administration has embarked on an unprecedented wave of prosecutions of whistleblowers and alleged leakers — an effort many journalists believe is aimed at blocking national security-related stories. “There just seems to be a disconnect here. You want aggressive journalism abroad; you just don’t want it in the United States,” ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper told White House press secretary Jay Carney at a recent briefing for reporters.
• In one of those cases, the Justice Department is trying to force a New York Times reporter to identify his confidential sources and is arguing that he has no legal protection from doing so.
• Compliance with agencies’ open-government plans has been spotty, with confusing and inaccurate metrics sometimes used to assess progress. Some federal agencies are also throwing up new hurdles, such as more fees, in the path of those seeking records.
• The Office of Management and Budget has stalled for more than a year the proposals of the chief FOIA ombudsman’s office to improve governmentwide FOIA operations.
Let’s get back to tax returns to close the loop there. While the Democratic Party attacks Romney for only disclosing two years of his tax returns, how many has their chair released? None:
“This week millions of taxpaying Americans will fulfill their requirement of filing their tax returns by paying any and all taxes due to the federal government,” Harrington’s campaign writes. “Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been asking Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney to release his 2011 tax return even after Governor Romney released his 2010 tax return.”
“Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz’s request of Governor Romney to release his tax returns screams of hypocrisy, because to the best of our knowledge, Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz has never released a single tax return of her own. As a member of Congress, she is required to release a yearly ‘financial disclosure,’ this yearly disclosure is not a tax return.
“While asking for Governor Romney to release his past tax returns, and in keeping with the spirit of President Obama’s call for ‘full transparency,’ we ask Congressman Wasserman Schultz to release her own tax returns.”
There are no records of Wasserman Schultz having ever released her personal income tax returns, though, as the Harrington campaign states, members of Congress are required to disclose assets, holdings, and various other financial information.
At the end of the day, which kind of transparency will matter more to American voters — candidates who keep their returns private, or administration officials who take the Fifth and who have the worst record ever on FOIA compliance? If Democrats want this fight, Republicans will be happy to have it.