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Sweet Column: Obama record on transparency lacking. Where are his state senate records?


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
"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.


Lynn Sweet argues that despite calling for transparency in politics, Obama “does not always practice what he preaches when it comes to his own business.” Sweet complains that Obama “has come late to the game” such as taking subsidized private jet flights early in his Senate career. However, Obama fully explains this in his book, The Audacity of Hope, and he wasn’t “late to the game.” He was simply doing what everybody was doing, until he began to question it. It’s hard to see how a virtue of Obama’s can be turned against him simply because he didn’t adopt it quickly enough.

Sweet also complains that although Obama has voluntarily disclosed his earmark requests since 2006 and passed legislative reforms, he hasn’t disclosed earlier earmark requests. This also seems trivial, since Obama is doing far more than other candidates. It’s quite possible that Obama is simply too busy to go back and look for every earmark request. That’s certainly true of Sweet’s call for Obama to release all records from his state senate work. However, there’s a big difference here between Obama and Clinton. First, Clinton’s records are available, if Hillary Clinton allows them to be revealed; the records of a state senator, by contrast, are not routinely kept for posterity. Second, Obama’s record as a state senator is out in the open in the form of votes cast and legislation proposed. Hillary Clinton’s claims of experience as a First Lady are shrouded in mystery about exactly what she did, a mystery that her records could reveal.

Finally, Sweet’s complaints about Obama revealing records of bundlers seem especially petty. Obama reveals the names of his major bundlers, which is a voluntary and important form of transparency. The fact that he doesn’t list where they live or who are the biggest fundraisers hardly seems significant.

Throughout her column, Sweet complains about Obama without comparing him to all the other candidates, who all have worse records on transparency. I’d love to see a reporter systematically compare all of the major candidates on their records and policies toward transparency. But there should not be a double standard holding Obama to a far higher level of transparency than the other candidates simply because Obama is proposing major improvements to help stop political corruption.

I did not call for the release of the records. My question was more basic: did he keep his state senate records?

I find the media's collective uproar over whether or not Clinton played the gender card to be just plain silly. Given the extent to which the male gender card is played, swapped, and collected 24/7/365 on the network and cable news, their feigned outrage is not without irony.

The truth is that identity politics has been central to the political process since long-before the Roman Empire. Further, every President in US history got there by playing some form of the male gender card.

Indeed, any objective view of the current Presidential field reveals that Clinton is not alone in trying to win over voters by means of identity politics.

Earlier in the campaign, when asked about any concern she had for her husband's safety, Michelle Obama replied:

"The realities are that . . . as a black man . . . Barack can get shot going to the gas station".

Obama himself appealed to fellow African Americans by citing the historic opportunity in electing the first African American during a recent swing through South Carolina:

"Now I've heard that some folks aren't sure America is ready for an African-American president. So let me be clear, I never would have begun this campaign if I weren't confident I could win. But you see, I am not asking anyone to take a chance on me. I am asking you to take a chance on your own aspirations."

For their part, the Edwards campaign has also utilized identity politics throughout their campaign.

When Elizabeth Edwards blamed the media for their campaign's poor press. She said:

"We can't make John black, we can't make him a woman".

During a recent swing through the south, John Edwards was accompanied by "good ol' boys" Mudcat Saunders and Cooter, from Dukes of Hazzard. During a speech addressing electability in the southern states, Edwards said:

"If you're running in a tough congressional district somewhere in America, anywhere in America, and I'm in one right now, okay, you gotta ask yourself would you rather have Senator Obama at the top of the ticket to help, Senator Clinton at the top of the ticket to help, or John Edwards at the top of the ticket to help. You got to have someone who is strong in all those places and who is not a drag on candidates who are trying to win in those places. The easiest way to do it, honestly, is to picture in your head each of us running in a tough place -- we're in one right now -- and which one's going to be more helpful and which one's not, because I think that does matter."

A few eyebrows were raised when the Edwards campaign highlighted Elizabeth's ongoing fight with cancer in its recent "Heros" ad. This same ad came under additional scrutiny for using only white Edward's supporters. Some even suggested that the non-diverse ad was an intentional effort to appeal to overwhelmingly-white Iowa caucus voters.

Personally, I think it's all OK!

Each candidate has the right to appeal to whomever they want, however they want. In turn, voters can exercise their right to vote for whatever reason they so chose.

The marketplace of ideas will always clear itself and the candidate with the most compelling argument wins. Because, in the end, it's for the voters to decide which card is trump, not the media

I am so tired of OBAMA. He bores me to death.
He operates like a robot. Edward's lies are at least interesting.

Whatever! This is a clean man. You can write whatever you want. He is cleaner than any of the Clintons. What happen to the homosexual story with no legs. Tired of that huh.

Obama wants to make "government transparency a centerpiece", something so fine in texture that it can be seen through, so light and insubstantial as say, Obama?

"As for the 'real' centerpiece of my new government. Let me make this crystal clear. Upon my ascension or immediately thereafter, whichever comes first depending on the level of obfuscation, I will place the platter. I will set the national table. I will befog you, that is to say."

I'm not tired of Obama - I am, however, absolutely sick of the people who believe that he walks on water.

Seaman - You should have kept your mouth shut. I never heard of the "homosexual story with no legs" - now you've made me prick up my ears. Not that anyone being gay or bisexual, or even having one same-sex experience, would make the slightest difference to the way I vote. I'm not a registered Democrat anyway, so all I can do is cheer (or snipe) from the sidelines. Not that I've found a lot to cheer about.

to Boohall: I agree with your assessment. Also, Hillary is the best double-talker since the old NY Yankees manager, Casey Stengel.

Seaman, what part of transparency in government don't you understand? Obama has gotten sweeping ethics legislation in Illinois passed and his senate bill forces the veil off of a lot of questionable conduct from congressmen and women such as private jets, meals and travel. I'm sure Obama will make any and all papers available when asked. It's not there's a desk with binders of his papers available at the local Springfield library...but it's far different than Hillary's ordering the sealing of records. Now she's flip-flopping again and saying that those papers are being released as fast as possible. Yeah right. Hope she didn't hire Bush's paper handlers. But then again, she's Bush-lite. She probably gave a no-bid contract to Halliburton to release the papers

John Edwards is a man of the people -- ALL people. When he speaks of electability, he speaks as a populist, a man fighting for the working people of this country, and those 37 million living in poverty. The reason he is the most electable candidate is that people in the Midwest, the South, and all areas that have been financially devastated by the corporate rape of our country, see in Edwards a man who understands and cares about their concerns. As the great communicator he is, people are responding to him because they know he remembers where he came from, and that he will not forget them when he is President. Who of the other candidates have put poverty on the table? Who else has been championing the working people of our country? John Edwards. This is a man who loves his country and ALL the people in it. No matter religion, ethnicity, race or gender. For anyone to suggest differently, and those attempting to perpetuate such nonsense, they are contributing to the lowest form of politics, in this day when ethics and morality are more desperately needed than ever. Stop trying to assassinate the character of this good, decent, honorable man with your innuendo and despicable suggestions. You shame yourself, and harm your country. We are trying to elect a President. If you cannot raise legitimate questions, then do us all a favor and remain silent.

Here is a link I found that compares Obama & Hillary on the issues brought up in this article.

Obama clearly has a better record on this than Hillary. It's not perfect but Obama has never claimed to be perfect.

John - be careful in your comparisons.

As an old Yankee hater you should be aware of Casey Stengel's record (but don't include his National League stats where he was less than good - .437 winning percentage):

Yrs Manager: 12 (1949 - 1960)

Winning Percentage: .623 (1,149 W vs. 696 L)

World Series Championships: 8 (including 5 in a row)

American League Chanmpionships: 2

If as the the old saying "not as I say but as I do" goes, then you must be implying Hillary will be great.

John. you are one of the reasons this country is going where it is going. You have to vote. Vote base on the issues not just what CNN or MSNBC or any one feeds you through a tube. Do research on the candidates and don't just go singing like a parrot. Obama is a better candidate than Hillary Clinton in many respect. Home work for you. Do research. Clinton might win the nomination but i bet you by August of 2008 most democrates will regrete it. Learn to call a spade a spade and a knife a knife. Teach those kids the truth. IT HELPS

obama is not the one who's running on experience as a State Senator. He says he is for change. It is Hillary who is running on the platform of her experience as first lady, and commonly refering to hers and her husband's function in the White House as "we". Ms. Sweet, get a life!!!!!

Obama is a hypocrite. I thought he was inspiring when I heard him speak at the Democratic convention but since then he has shown time and time again that he plays the political game just like everyone else. Oh yeah, except he's not as good at it.

I'm sick and tired of hearing him say that he never voted to give the president power to go to war with Iraq. Well that's because he wasn't in Congress, yet. It's a lot easier to say what you 'would have' done than to actually do it. His votes since being in office have been noticeable for their lack of courage. Exhibit A is his failure to vote on the resolution denouncing’s advertisement about Gen. David Petraeus in September of this year. He voted for a resolution 5 minutes before this vote, yet he was 1 of just 3 senators not to stand up and be counted on this issue. What a profile in courage ...

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on November 5, 2007 6:15 AM.

Sweet blog column: Obama opens Saturday Night Live. Slaps down Clinton in skit. was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet blog extra: Bush honors Henry Hyde and U of Chicago economist Gary Becker. is the next entry in this blog.

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