WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is on track to become the Democratic presidential nominee, and he's getting the attention his accomplishment deserves. Thursday, Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, and the Republican National Committee treated Obama like the front-runner he is and attacked him -- for not being transparent when it comes to disclosing his earmark requests.
I'm returning to transparency and Obama -- I've written columns on this topic since 2004 -- because Obama's reluctance to tell the whole story on earmarks and other matters is a habit with him. Now Obama has created an opening that his GOP opponents are using to hit him.
In the year Obama has been running for president, he has made government transparency a central campaign pledge. That was his strategic decision. But there are consequences when you campaign saying you would do one thing as president, but don't do it as a senator.
One might guess that Obama is a model of disclosure. He is not. He has been improving. But he has gaps, and Thursday's blasts from the Republicans showed they have no reluctance to exploit an Obama weakness. I have made my points over the years -- on how Obama is not as forthcoming as he could be with his schedules, fund-raising events, bundlers and earmarks. To the credit of Obama and his campaign, there has been some progress on these fronts.
Earmarks are spending measures tucked into legislation. Earmarks are controversial because some people call this pork; others see this as funding for projects important to a state or a community. McCain has made getting rid of earmarks a crusade and seeks none. A searchable database put together by Taxpayers for Common Sense just triggered a new round of earmark stories. Obama helped get $91 million for Illinois projects; Sen. Hillary Clinton assisted in securing $342 million for New York.
Thursday's Washington Post ran a front-page story about Clinton, Obama, McCain and their earmarks. The story noted that Obama "since last year" does disclose his earmark requests "but has not released those submitted to the [Appropriations] committee in 2005 and 2006."
In November, I wrote about how Obama's Senate office, after repeated requests since June, had yet to disclose earmarks Obama sought in 2006.
The Post story triggered a Republican National Committee research department release headlined "Obama praises transparency in government, but refuses to let others see his own records."
On the campaign trail Thursday, McCain blasted Obama on earmark disclosure, according to reports. "And the senator from Illinois, who says that he wants transparency in government, will not reveal the number of earmarks that he received in 2006 and 2005. Is that transparency in government? I don't think so. I don't think so!" McCain said.
The Obama response has been that they disclose more than Clinton, a reply I think shows calculation, not conviction. The goal for Obama is not just to stay a step ahead of Clinton. Now he's got to deal with McCain.