There are very few occasions in the Sunlight offices for us to use the fax machine, so we were somewhat out of practice when we learned that we had to use it to send Freedom of Information Act requests to the Department of Treasury. At least the fax is instantaneous: we received most of our responses from them via snail mail.
To do this story, which involved looking into various agencies in charge of the bailout of the financial sector, we had to file seven FOIA requests--all sent via fax to Treasury--then make several phone calls to follow up on ...Continue reading
White House Web Site Transparency
According to a study by Scott Althaus and Kalev Leetaru of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the Bush White House... View ArticleContinue reading
Ever since Jimmy Carter became a lame duck after the 1980 elections, outgoing presidents have proposed “midnight regulations” in the... View ArticleContinue reading
The food industry’s heavy lobbying over the past few years to reduce regulation and paperwork has turned into a “monkey’s... View ArticleContinue reading
What Economic Indicators?
The Bush Administration is getting quite good at death by budget, knocking off two federal open government programs in the last couple of weeks. Tony Soprano would be impressed.
Late last month, the administration submitted their 2009 budget, where it was revealed they eliminated the key provision of the Open Government Act of 2007 - the ombudsman whose job it is to oversee all Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. They pulled it off by moving the office from the National Archives and Records Administration to the Department of Justice where it is doomed to ineffectual exile. The second hit was on EconomicIndicators.gov, an award-winning web site full of current economic data at the U.S. Department of Commerce. The site will be put in mothballs effective March 1st. The administration said it was a budget cutting decision. The Web site has gotten a lot of attention for how easily it allows citizens to access the daily releases of key economic indicators and to cross reference the data among various bureaus and would send out e-mails to registered users whenever new economic data was released. Sure, Think Progress writes, the data will still be available but much harder - much much harder to access. Most of us wouldn't have the time to go and look at the individual sites and even know where to look for it.Continue reading
Major Victory for Transparency
This afternoon, our friends at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) got a major victory for all who care for openness and transparency.
A federal judge ruled that the logs kept by the Secret Service of visitors to the White House and the Vice President's residence are public records and subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. The Bush White House had been fighting the release of the documents in an effort to hide evidence and details of visits from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and prominent religious conservative leaders. The White House insists that the logs are presidential records and should not be public, and wants the Secret Service to destroy its copies of the logs once they are turned over to the White House. They were wrong.
In sum, according to CREW: "As a result of today's ruling, records of visits to both the White House complex and the residency of the vice president are now publicly available through the FOIA."Continue reading
White House Fired Attorneys; Domenici Got Iglesias Axed
With two stories out today, one from the New York Times and the other from the Washington Post, we learn that everything the Justice Department told Congress was factually-impaired. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez claimed that there was nothing political about the firings, except that the President's Counsel Harriet Miers and the President's chief political operative created the list of Attorney's to axe and Justice was in discussions all along. In the beginning the White House wanted to fire all 93 Attorneys only to scale back this plan when it was deemed by Rove to be politically impossible. (For those paying attention that would have included U.S. Attorney for the District of Illinois (Northern) Patrick Fitzgerald, the guy prosecuting a case against the Vice President's right-hand man.)Continue reading
- According to the San Bernardino Sun, the top technology firm ESRI has received a subpoena in the ongoing investigation into Appropriations Chairman [sw: Jerry Lewis] (R-Calif.) and his ties to Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White, the lobbying firm representing ESRI and numerous municipalities that have received subpoenas. From 2001 to 2006 Lewis "earmarked more than $90 million for ESRI projects that included defense intelligence systems such as database mapping to assist in rebuilding war-torn Iraq." From 2000 to 2005 ESRI paid the Lowery firm $360,000 in fees to lobby Congress.
- TPM Muckraker reports that Bernard Kerik, the first choice to head the Department of Homeland Security for President Bush's second term, will plead guilty to accepting "improper gifts totaling tens of thousands of dollars while he was a city official in the late 1990's".
- The Wall Street Journal profiles the Han Solo of the Congressional Pork Wars, [sw: Jeff Flake] (R-Ariz.). Flake is "a ringer for actor Owen Wilson who crashes not weddings but his own Republican Party" by asking "colleagues to come to the House floor and explain why taxpayers should pay for pet projects in their districts." He has twice targeted Appropriations Chairman [sw: Jerry Lewis] (R-Calif.) -- the Sith Lord if we are to keep with the Star Wars theme -- and even targeted an earmark inserted by none other than the Speaker of the House [sw: Dennis Hastert] (R-Ill.). Flake questions the culture that underlies much of the corrupt behavior in Congress, "What’s just mystifying is the sense of entitlement now: You have the right to have your projects and to ask for it through the process without anyone else knowing about it or being able to challenge it. That’s your inherent right as a member of Congress."
News Before the Storm:
Thunderstorms have become a daily occurence here in DC over the past week. It looks like we're about to get another one. Here's a look at the news before Pennsylvania Ave. turns into a river and my power goes out:
- Jack Abramoff and former Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) chief of staff Ed Buckham "orchestrated a series of multimillion-dollar maneuvers with several charities he or Buckham exerted control over. These charities became a primary tool in his criminal conspiracy," according to Roll Call. The noose continues to tighten around the now retired DeLay.
- Congress doesn't care about cleaning itself up by reforming their ethics or the practice of lobbying. According to the Washington Post, lobbying and ethics reform "has slowed to a crawl. Along the way, proposals such as Hastert's that would sharply limit commonplace behavior on Capitol Hill have been cast aside." Congress, playing the role of a baby, has soiled itself and is incapable of changing it's diapers, let alone become potty trained. It smells.
- USA Today reports that some lawmakers are questioning the annual cost-of-living adjustment to their salary claiming that they do not deserve to make more money so long as the minimum wage remains at $5.15 an hour or the government does not run a balanced budget. The rank and file member of Congress currently makes $165,200 with leadership earning more. Members today are earning $710 less than they did in 2001 due to inflation. If the raise were to go into effect members would make $168,500 next year. In 2005 the daily salary of members of Congress -- when calculating the days Congress was in session -- was $1149.65.
- According to Newsweek, "White House staffers have accepted nearly $135,000 in free trips since November 2004." Those offering the trips have included conservative organizations like the National Association of Manufacturers, he Southern Baptist Convention, Focus on the Family and the Federalist Society.
- Is the 109th Congress a "Do Nothing Congress?" Are all major actions expected to be political ploys with no expectation of serious action on the serious issues of the day? Continue reading
- The White House rejected a new EPA rule to "keep groundwater clean near oil drilling sites and other construction zones" after receiving complaints from oil and energy company executives. Ernest Angelo, a Texas oil man and a Republican activist, expressed his anger over the EPA rule by writing that many in the energy world "openly express doubt as to the merit of electing Republicans when we wind up with this type of stupidity." As always we like to remember that President Bush is the biggest recipient of campaign cash from the oil and gas industry in the entire history of elections in America.
- Anti-pork hardliner [sw: John Shadegg] (R-AZ) has fired the latest salvo in the Pork Wars between conservative Republican congressmen and [sw: Jerry Lewis]' (R-CA) Appropriations Committee by "circulating a newspaper story linking Rep. Jerry Lewis to 'the inherent risk of corruption at the heart of the congressional earmark process.'"
- Several weeks ago [sw: Jerry Lewis] (R-CA) retained a lawyer to handle to federal investigation into his and his aides' earmarking practices. One of Lewis' lawyers is Barbara Comstock who is currently representing I. Lewis Libby in the Plame case.
- In Scotland, the famous destination of Jack Abramoff and his merry band of travellers, no one knows about the lobbyist's well-documented golfing trips. Favorite quote: “'We have the same scandals,' said Neil Paton, the head professional in the town’s only certified pro shop, 'except our politicians go the beach in Spain or Italy.'"
- At least the corruption in this country doesn't fuel an insurgency. In Iraq, that appears to be a huge problem. Continue reading