Vice president elect: Mike Pence’s record on open government

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
(Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

We didn’t elect Mike Pence president – but he’s one heartbeat away from the Oval Office, making him the most important understudy in the country.

Now that Pence is in charge of the White House’s transition team, he wields heavy input on key staffing and cabinet level positions for Donald Trump’s administration. We followed the money behind Pence’s career, now we’re examining the vice president-elect’s record on Sunlight’s core issues.

Despite more than 12 years representing Indiana in the House of Representatives, and introducing more than 90 bills and resolutions, none of Pence’s proposals became law.

On privacy and surveillance

As a freshman member in 2001, Pence urged the House to pass the Patriot Act, and “trust the process.” The original Patriot Act passed overwhelmingly in both houses with bipartisan support.

“The legislation is about trust,” said Pence. “It is not about fear. It is about trusting the law enforcement authorities of this country with the powers – some temporary, some permanent – to stop those who would wage war on our citizens before they level the attacks.”

Eight years later, Pence advocated to extend wiretapping from the Patriot Act until 2019.

Several would-be members of Trump’s cabinet are also in favor of the Act’s key provisions. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general also voted to extend roving wiretapping in 2011. Trump’s choice for CIA director, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., wrote earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal that Congress should restore the NSA bulk collection of metadata – a practice revealed by Edward Snowden. With Trump, Sessions, Pompeo and Pence at the helm to extend the Executive Branch’s surveillance capabilities, it’s not hard to imagine which direction the new administration will take on the debate between privacy and national security.

On election integrity

Pence boasted how Indiana became one of the first states to enact stringent voter ID laws in 2005. Pence says the laws curb voter fraud, but critics say they disenfranchise voters.

Eleven years after Indiana’s laws went into effect, Indiana closed its polling stations during their open primary hours before most states did, instead of staying open until everyone in line had voted. Additionally, Indiana does not require employers to allow its employees to leave work to vote. Numerous studies show mandating stricter voting requirements disproportionately affects minorities, the elderly and low-income voters.

“You need a picture ID to cash a check at a grocery store; there’s nothing wrong with asking people to have a picture ID to exercise the blood-bought franchise of voting in this country,” said Pence.

Speaking at a town hall in New Hampshire this August, Pence urged the audience to participate in election-watching on Election Day. Poll-watching can help ensure the integrity at the polls – by making sure voters aren’t denied the right to vote if they meet their state’s requirements – but Pence urging voters to intimidate voters to prevent fraud is dubious at best and illegal at worst.

With voter suppression high in Republican controlled states, voter fraud and abuse remains highly exaggerated, and largely a myth.

(Sen. Jeff Sessions also supports the requirement for photo IDs at the polls.)

On money in politics

Before Pence stepped onto Capitol Hill, he ran for Indiana’s state House mired in controversy after funnelling campaign donations “to pay the mortgage on his house, his personal credit card bill, groceries, golf tournament fees and car payments for his wife,” according to the Washington Post. While not illegal at the time, Pence may have catalyzed a landmark decision banning political donations for personal gain.

During his first run for Congress, Pence bemoaned he would be an agent of change to campaign finance reform. But he voted against the first real opportunity in the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act, also known as McCain-Feingold, legislation that essentially banned political “soft money.” Without McCain-Feingold, contribution limits would have drastically increased before the 2004 election. Pence also accused John McCain, known to compromise across the aisle and to further legislation, as “sleeping with the enemy.”

The same year, Pence voted to decrease disclosure for 527 groups, a vessel for channelling unlimited campaign contributions anonymously.

In 2005, Pence proposed legislation that would have exempted the internet from the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) public communications regulations, required 527 groups to file the same Federal Election Commission reports as PACs, and removed a cap on how much political parties can spend on coordinated expenditures. Increasing the “internet blindspot” would only increase the dark money funneling into our election process. Not only did Pence fail to minimize the influence of big money in our elections, he helped shield big donors who wanted to remain anonymous.

While governor of Indiana, Pence introduced the 527 Fairness Act, which would have raised the amount of money 527s could raise from individuals in both primary and general elections. The bill would have given parties greater control in the election process and eliminated many spending limits the McCain-Feingold Act imposed. The legislation also required 527s to report more quickly and openly.

He declared the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which led to the rise of super PACs and other outside groups who raise big money, a “major victory.” Over three-fourths of voters oppose Citizens United and campaign finance reform remains one of the few issues with significant bipartisan support, as 84 percent of Democrats and 72 percent and Republicans favor limiting the amount of money individuals and organizations can spend on campaigns and issues.

In various speeches throughout his career, Pence has consistently decried money-in-politics regulation as censorship of free speech, at one point saying in 2006, “We are on the road to serfdom in American politics with campaign finance reform.”

Pence doesn’t care for earmarks, unless they benefit his district. He linked them to lobbying scandals and rallied against pork-barrel funding – but he placed earmarks in his own appropriations bill, specifically, $500,000 for the “Transit Acquisition and Intermodal Facility Project” in Indiana.

“You can’t complain about the sharks when you are holding the bucket of chum,” he later said.

As Governor, Pence signed an Indiana bill that required legislators to disclose investments they hold that total $5,000 or more, which provides needed sunlight on potential conflicts of interest.

Pence led the charge to remove lobbyists from the White House and helped create a ban on lobbying five years after leaving the White House. Aside from near impossible enforcement, this outright ban could provoke more “shadow lobbyists” if would-be lobbyists simply choose not to register.

While the Trump/Pence ticket strutted into the White House while decrying big donors from “the establishment”, it’s unlikely either will champion major reforms to money in politics. They may end up polluting the swamp more than draining it.

Mike Pence, Donald Trump and family members at the RNC in Cleveland.
Mike Pence, Donald Trump and family members. (Image credit: ABC News/Ida Mae Astute)

On tech and transparency

Pence, formerly on the Congressional Internet Caucus, rejected an amendment in 2011 that would have established network neutrality by requiring broadband network services to enable access to all content and not block and particular websites.

Pence co-sponsored the Internet Freedom Act, arguing that the internet, affecting interstate commerce, should not be subject to the FCC’s jurisdiction.

Indiana – or “Silicon Prairie” – is a “bastion for tech innovation”, according to an open letter by Pence while governor. Pence spent $338,000 in renovations on an open data center (Government’s Management & Performance Hub) in the Indiana statehouse, which he called “the most transparent, the most efficient, and the most effective state government in America.”Pence created a “data czar” which would use workforce data to determine K-12 curriculum to better prepare students for the future workforce demands.

Trump and Pence remained fixated on their opponent’s email controversy during the 2016 election, but the two turned a blind eye to Pence’s predicament. The former governor is refusing to disclose an attachment he redacted in response to a document request. The issue troubles transparency advocates with the potential precedent for lawmakers independently choosing what information to disclose when requested.

Pence vetoed a bill limiting police record transparency, which would have allowed private universities’ police departments to have different standards for public records than public police departments.

“Limiting access to police records in a situation where private university police departments perform a governmental function is a disservice to the public and an unnecessary barrier to transparency,” said Pence.

On the media

After declaring the “institution of a free and independent press is under siege in this country,” in 2006, Pence co-sponsored the Free Flow of Information Act of 2009, protecting journalists in federal courts against compelled disclosure of confidential sources. He introduced a shield law in 2011 to do the same.

“Without the free flow of information from sources to reporters, the public is ill-equipped to make informed decisions,” said Pence.

“Compelling reporters to testify, and in particular, compelling them to reveal the identity of their confidential sources, is a detriment to the public interest,” Pence also said in a statement.

Though Pence valued the trustful flow of information between a journalist and his/her source, expanding protections of whistleblowers was not on his agenda as he voted against the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007.

In June 2013, Pence faced criticism for deleting comments of dissenters on his official government Facebook page.

Despite a record in support of the First Amendment, Pence has always been at odds with staunch free speech advocates. The Facebook page “I Got Blocked By Governor Mike Pence for stating my Opinion” has nearly 6,000 likes and his actions blocking dissenters regarding his gay marriage comments spawned the hashtag #pencership

What better way to control the media when you own the media? In 2015, Pence pondered creating a state-run, taxpayer-funded news service for Indiana, named JustIn. With so many eyebrows raised at the prospect of seemingly state-run propaganda, Pence scrapped the idea.

Overall, Pence has quite a mixed record when it comes to Sunlight’s core issues of transparency, accountability, civic engagement, the First Amendment and technology. Hopefully as vice president, he upholds the principles of open government even if his peers in the White House choose to drain the sunlight from the swamp.