WASHINGTON -- White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who is making government transparency a centerpiece of the latest phase of his campaign, does not always practice what he preaches when it comes to his own business.
Obama is accusing chief rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) of being secretive and slowing down the release of her official first lady papers in the Clinton Library, documents that could help buttress -- or erode -- her claim of presidential experience.
Since last Tuesday's Democratic debate in Philadelphia, Obama has been stepping up his criticism of Clinton on the matter of transparency, which makes it timely to look at his own record.
Obama deserves credit for pushing for a law, signed last year, creating a searchable database containing federal contracts. He also has been a champion of new Senate ethics rules to force more disclosure about bundlers who help raise campaign cash. He has pushed for the creation of a Congressional Ethics Enforcement Commission, to make it easier for the public to pursue ethics complaints.
Sometimes Obama has come late to the game. He did not stop taking rides on subsidized corporate jets until the week he was tapped to be the Democrats' chief spokesman on ethics in January 2006. In 2005, Obama took 23 such private aircraft flights, some to attend fund-raisers he headlined. In 2006, Obama led the fight to ban lawmakers from taking cut-rate private air travel.
On other fronts, the Obama transparency record is lacking.
• • An Obama spokesman, Ben LaBolt, last week declined to say where Obama's records from his years in the Illinois State Senate are located. There is no law mandating the state to archive the records. The records from Obama's office -- if he kept them -- would potentially show appointments with lobbyists, policy memos, meetings, etc.
“Every document that the State of Illinois considers to be a matter of public record is available directly from the state," LaBolt said in response to the question about where Obama took his state senate papers when his office was packed up after he was elected to the U.S. Senate. LaBolt declined, again, to say where Obama is storing his--not the State of Illinois--state senate records. END UPDATE
SECOND MONDAY UPDATE
"Every one of Obama's State Senate records that the State of Illinois considers to be a public document is available directly from the state," LaBolt said. END SECOND UPDATE
• • Obama has supported more earmark disclosure to bolster government transparency. Last June, Obama disclosed the earmarks he requested for Illinois and national interests. However, his office, after repeated requests since June, has yet to disclose earmarks Obama sought in 2006, before he was running for president.
• • Obama does list the names of hundreds of bundlers -- people committed to raising at least $50,000 for the campaign -- on his Web site. He brags about the disclosure on the stump.
But that's literally all Obama does, list a name. No cities or states, information that is available to his campaign. Some names are well known because the bundlers are celebrities or longtime activists. But it's a big country, and there are more than one Bob Clark and Lou Cohen. Just listing a name does lip service to meaningful disclosure.
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, in a memo sent last week after the debate, said Obama is "setting a new standard of openness in campaign fund-raising." That's because the bar is very low.
• • Obama's campaign has refused to identify the biggest bundlers, people who are raising at least $200,000 for him and are given membership in his National Finance Council. Obama, as all major candidates, declines most of the time to disclose details about most fund-raising events.
• • During a town hall meeting last month in Dover, N.H., Obama pledged that he would post all meetings he would hold as president on the Internet. As a senator, Obama has never done that.
• • Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) routinely releases a detailed schedule of his Washington, D.C., meetings -- with international leaders, Illinois state and local officials, constituents and lobbyists.