Chicago Sun-Times
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Sweet column: McCain, GOP hits Obama on transparency.


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.


Another "strategy" that attempts to draw attention to an issue that is much deeper than just the word "earmarks". When we send our politicians to Washington or Springfield, we expect them to "bring home the bacon", to cite an old phrase. Earmarks, pork, bacon, it's all pretty much the same. In Lynn's column, she writes that John McCain doesn't "do" earmarks. If he only backs items that benefit the common good, that's great for him. I can guarantee that if Obama did the exact same thing, he would be blasted in this (and the other newspaper) for not doing anything for the State of Illinois. This very column might be part of that business as usual chorus. So what to do? Instead of using a blanket term like earmarks, let's get specific. If a Senator or Congressman slips in a project that benefits the privileged few - then let's be very specific and call him or her on that item. But if the item generally benefits the common good of Illinois (or Arizona, etc.) - then let's not place it in the oh so bad "earmark" pile. C'Mon Lynn, fair is fair - so let's try to be a little more specific without using the political smear blanket approach. I can read that you're just reporting the McCain story - but then you fall in to that very same broad brush approach. I am getting very tired of all this sad rhetoric.

At issue in the column is disclosure--not the specific merits of a spending proposal. One cannot determine the merits of a spending measure until it is known. There is no broad brush in this instance; just a very specific issue about disclosure that was done for 2007 and not done for 2006 and 2005.

The Media should do their job in devoting attention to Barack's Senate Record.

Excerpt from:
Judge Him by His Laws,
By Charles Peters
Friday, January 4, 2008; Page A21

People who complain that Barack Obama lacks experience must be unaware of his legislative achievements. One reason these accomplishments are unfamiliar is that the media have not devoted enough attention to Obama's bills and the effort required to pass them, ignoring impressive, hard evidence of his character and ability.
Since most of Obama's legislation was enacted in Illinois, most of the evidence is found there -- and it has been largely ignored by the media in a kind of Washington snobbery that assumes state legislatures are not to be taken seriously. (Another factor is reporters' fascination with the horse race at the expense of substance that they assume is boring, a fascination that despite being ridiculed for years continues to dominate political journalism.)

(Below Excerpts from Blog: Obsidian Wings, Hilzoy)

Barack Obama kept popping up, doing really good substantive things. There he was, working for nuclear non-proliferation and securing loose stockpiles of conventional weapons, like shoulder-fired missiles. There he was again, passing what the Washington Post called "the strongest ethics legislation to emerge from Congress yet" -- though not as strong as Obama would have liked. Look -- he's over there, passing a bill that created a searchable database of recipients of federal contracts and grants, proposing legislation on avian flu back when most people hadn't even heard of it, working to make sure that soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were screened for traumatic brain injury and to prevent homelessness among veterans, successfully fighting a proposal by the VA to reexamine all PTSD cases in which full benefits had been awarded, working to ban no-bid contracts in Katrina reconstruction, and introducing legislation to criminalize deceptive political tactics and voter intimidation. And there he was again, introducing a tech plan of which Lawrence Lessig wrote:

(You can read more on the Obsidian Wings Blog.)

Yes--Lynn Sweet is guilty guilty guilty. Of good journalism. Are you supporting a candidate or a messiah when you criticize those who rightly hold Senator Obama to the same standard of any other politician? John Edwards, where are you?

Ms. Sweet, don't listen to this Obama groupie Gary Fox. You are absolutely correct to ask for Obama's earmarked projects for 2006 & 2005. You see, Obama released his 2007 earmarks because in 2007 he was running for President and he knew that any earmarks he got had better be legit because they would be looked into. He is not releasing his 2005 & 2006 earmarks because he had no plans to run for President at that time, so he figured he could take care of his friends and family without anyone being wise to it. This is a simple issue, release the 2005 & 2006 earmarks if you have nothing to be ashamed of. The fact he is not releasing them probably means they were just projects that wasted the taxpayers money.

I presume this is what you are speaking of Ms Sweet?

Congress' year-end budget passed in December 2007 contains almost 9,000 earmarks. 2,658 of them representing $13.2 billion have been identified as "Pork Projects" by Citizens Against Government Waste, significantly lower than the numbers and dollar amounts of recent prior years: 13,997 "Pork Projects" for a total of $27.3 billion in 2005, and 9,963 projects for a total of $29 billion in 2006.

The above amount adds up to $67.8 Billion dollars over three years. How much of this money do you or any of the negative posters think U.S. Senator Obama had distributed to the state of Illinois or as a Illinois State Senator to the district he represented?

We have a sitting president spending trillions on an unjust war. We have the spouse of the previous president who sign the NAFTA bill which has eroded more American jobs overseas or outsourced to other countries. (I will not try to give a figure for this because the tally is stilling be added to it as you read this!)

Exactly what did Daddy Bush get away with again?

If Senator Obama was any more transparent, we virtually would not be able to see him.

Last note, I should be upset with him I guess, considering we all know if you have too much pork you acquire various problems. But maybe he was simply trying to help eradicate the ills of previous legislatators, by using the earmarks for the good of the people for once.

Well, maybe Obama will work on another Obama-Coburn Transparency Act, this one for earmarks. I'm for universal transparency, especially when it comes to my (taxpayer) money. With earmarks, I'm not sure it's all that straight-forward. How do you separate Obama's and Durbin's earmarks, for instance, if they're for Illinois projects? Surely they work some things out between themselves, if only to avoid duplication and projects falling through the cracks. But can you really say this one is Obama's, and this one is Durbin's? Same for Clinton and McCain. (And I admit I am ignorant as to whether Representatives can add earmarks as well. If they can, add them to the pot.)

What I don't like is the "pop-ups" of stories of what's missing. Lynn, you've been consistent on schedules, fund-raising events, bundlers and earmarks for Obama, so I can remember that's what he's missing (whether or not it's important to me is another issue). For Clinton, I've heard White House First Lady papers, tax returns for both Hillary and Bill, and the Clinton Library donor list. There's probably more. I don't know what McCain isn't releasing, but I can't believe he's totally transparent.

How about an ongoing list of who's releasing what to whom and when? We've all gotten used to wikipedia-style constantly-updated lists, and it's a good thing. Nobody can remember each day's news, and most aren't following this stuff 24X7 in the first place, so maybe the Sun-Times can give you some space for a 'backgrounder' section so readers can refresh their memories on these ongoing issues?

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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 February 15, 2008 7:41 AM.

Sweet: SEIU to endorse Obama on Friday. NYT reports John Lewis flips to Obama. was the previous entry in this blog.

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