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When Calls for 'Transparency' Go Too Far

Some of the demands currently being waved about are clearly problematic, if only from a logistical standpoint. Gingrich may or may not be able to publish his contracts and “produced product” from his period of employment as a consulting historian for Freddie Mac. Some such deals require the compliance of the other signatories to the agreement. The case with Romney’s clients at Bain is, if anything, even more unlikely to bear fruit for the same reasons. But the deeper question here isn’t whether they can produce such documents, but rather if we should reasonably expect them to do so.

Office seekers are commonly called upon to provide all manner of private information, even when the law doesn’t specifically require them to do so. Much of this data includes details which the vast majority of voters would never themselves consider releasing and would likely be offended in the extreme were you to ask for it. Few of us would care to cut loose the protections of doctor-patient confidentiality, yet we routinely expect it of politicians. The voters might have a vested interest in seeing if the candidate is likely to live long enough to complete their term and retain the competency to do so. But their opponents might be more interested in fine grain details, such as… why did you need that penicillin shot back the summer of 1972, sir?

Financial records are also a matter of curiosity in all quarters. Conservatives tend to wish for everyone to pay lower taxes, but they prefer this take place through the lowering of marginal rates, not having their candidates break the law to dodge the IRS. But yet again, malicious opponents would like to pry further into the bank vaults, examining each and every investment and return. Did the politician perhaps purchase the stock of a company who once did business with some overseas entity which once purchased oil from… Iran!? Surely an endorsement of sharia law in America if we’ve ever seen one, ladies and gentlemen.

The list of potential discoveries stretches on from there to eternity. So is there such a thing as too much background information on a candidate? Does the search for legitimate, character-defining historical data ever delve too deeply into a quagmire which does nothing but muddy the waters and provide fodder for misleading or baseless attack ads? To be sure, we don’t want to cut off the flow to the point where we leave the candidates comfortably ensconced in a dark, salubrious hole of anonymity. But it seems there should be some sort of Rubicon we don’t want to cross here, and only the voters can establish that standard.

(Also read: "Mittens Takes Off the Gloves")