During his run for the presidency in 2007 and 2008, Senator Barack Obama was fond of criticizing President Bush for his administration’s supposed lack of “transparency.” Obama alluded to a “secretive” administration and hit them as much as he could for catering to “lobbyists” and “big money interests,” all while kicking dirt on the rest of the rabble around the country.
For a candidate who declared, “We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for” — and who boasted that ocean levels would recede and the planet would heal after being exposed to his greatness for just a few years — running a transparent administration should have been a piece of cake.
Alas, like most of what Obama has touched, the reverse Midas has shown through. With respect to his unmet promise of transparency, it did not do harm in the way his failed promises have affected the economy, civil liberties, healthcare, and energy. But his reversals in making government more open only confirmed the suspicions of many who warned Obama was the typical Chicago machine politician — and not the guy who others envisioned walked on water to reach the podium at the Democratic National Convention.
Here are some specific examples where Obama has failed on his vow of transparency.
1. Lobbyists in the White House
One of the louder criticisms Senator Obama voiced about the Bush administration had to do with lobbyist influences. “There will be no lobbyists at the White House!” Obama boldly proclaimed. Of course, his administration would tell you this was a promise they kept. Here’s why:
There are no Secret Service agents posted next to the barista and no presidential seal on the ceiling, but the Caribou Coffee across the street from the White House has become a favorite meeting spot to conduct Obama administration business.
Here at the Caribou on Pennsylvania Avenue, and a few other nearby coffee shops, White House officials have met hundreds of times over the last 18 months with prominent K Street lobbyists — members of the same industry that President Obama has derided for what he calls its “outsized influence” in the capital.
On the agenda over espressos and lattes, according to more than a dozen lobbyists and political operatives who have taken part in the sessions, have been front-burner issues like Wall Street regulation, health care rules, federal stimulus money, energy policy and climate control — and their impact on the lobbyists’ corporate clients.
But because the discussions are not taking place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they are not subject to disclosure on the visitors’ log that the White House releases as part of its pledge to be the “most transparent presidential administration in history.”
2. Posting Bills Online
Obama criticized President Bush for signing bills that had text kept secret from the public. As a part of this commitment, Candidate Obama promised that every bill he planned to sign would be posted online five days before he signed it.
It was his first broken promise — and it is a promise that he keeps on breaking. He has now signed eleven bills into law and, at best, is one for eleven on the “five-day posting promise.” The Obama administration should deliver on the Web-enabled transparency he promised and post bills five days before signing.
In May of 2012, Buzzfeed reported that the Obama White House posted merely 50% of the bills the President signed into law, online.
3. Freedom of Information Act Requests
When newly sworn in as President, Obama pledged to be the see-through administration when he sent a now laughable memo to all federal agencies that said:
Transparency and openness were so important to the new president that on his first full day in office last year, he dispatched a much-publicized memo throughout the federal government saying:
“All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.”
Yay Obama! Yay freedom! Yay transparency!
Yay bullshit is more like it.
It wasn’t that the Obama administration was just as bad as the Bush administration when it came to denying FOIA requests. They were worse.
An Associated Press examination of 17 major agencies’ handling of FOIA requests found denials 466,872 times, an increase of nearly 50% from the 2008 fiscal year under Bush.
Oh. So much for that.
4. Executive Privilege (Fast And Furious)
No lack of transparency has been more egregious than Obama’s claim of executive privilege during the Fast & Furious investigations:
Tired of stonewalling, House Republicans threatened Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt, forcing Obama’s hand. In 2007, presidential candidate Obama told the Boston Globe, “My view is that executive privilege generally depends on the involvement of the president and the White House.” He must take a different view of it now, as Obama declared executive privilege to protect the Department of Justice as well, compelling the House to vote for contempt.
That contempt of Congress vote passed 255-67. Seventeen Democrats voted for it — the vote total was low because bunch of whiny Democrats, too chicken to vote, decided to scurry off in “protest.” As such, Eric Holder became the first sitting cabinet member ever to be voted in contempt of Congress.
Senator Obama promised that when he was elected he would blaze a new trail of openness and transparency with the American people. He certainly blazed a trail. His administration has become one of the most secretive in history.
The trail he blazed is littered with the rubble of his broken promises.