If ever we saw the fruits, and possibilities, of disclosure and transparency, it is in this New York Times profile of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The article is based largely off of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) release of Geithner’s 2007-2008 schedule when he served as president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. The 658-page schedule is a monument, not only to the FOIA system (and to the new “presumption towards disclosure” ordered by President Obama and AG Holder), but also to what active disclosure could look like. Imagine these records released as the meetings were happening.
While the schedule rarely explains the contents of the meetings, the running list of financial titans tells its own story. As Joseph Stiglitz explains in the Times article:
“I don’t think that Tim Geithner was motivated by anything other than concern to get the financial system working again,” Mr. Stiglitz said. “But I think that mindsets can be shaped by people you associate with, and you come to think that what’s good for Wall Street is good for America.”
The Geithner profile shows his repeated meetings with Wall Street titans, particularly executives and high-level employees of Citigroup, the once-mighty superbank. The disclosure of these meetings helps explain the decisions that Geithner made during his term at the New York Fed and as Treasury Secretary. They are a vital part of the public record.
In Washington, the disclosure of these kinds of contacts would also be vitally important, not only for public consumption but for the awareness of lawmakers. If we were allowed to see the schedules of contacts made by lobbyists and influencers, stories like these — pulling back the curtain — would proliferate. Imagine every contact by a registered lobbyist or influencer to a congressional office and executive branch agency reported into a database, made into a schedule, and made available online.
This kind of transparency would alter the way the public sees politics in Washington. It would also provide lawmakers and others an important view into the pressure tactics of interest groups and lobbyists, something that they ought to be privvy to, to help make better decisions in their representative capacity. The more real-time disclosure we have the more likely stories like the Geithner profile will be able to come out while decisions are being made and not through when we are looking through the rear-view mirror.