The PJ Tatler

The Liberal War on Transparency: The Left Turns a Signature Achievement on its Head

Transparency in government was a hallmark achievement of American progressives. Renowned liberal jurist Louis Brandeis wrote, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” The man who appointed Brandeis to the Supreme Court, Woodrow Wilson, waxed poetically about the ideal. However, the bloom is plainly off that rose, despite liberals continued invoking of transparency as a campaign theme.

Now, public servants require heightened privacy as to the details of their work. But woe be to the private citizen or corporation who chooses to participate in the political debate.

Providing financial support to pro-free market public policy groups — those whom the Wall Street Journals Kim Strassel calls Obamas Enemies List— apparently risks having ones personal affairs laid bare for scrutiny. This, liberals assure us, is not for purposes of intimidating those who participate and chilling others from making a similar error in judgment. It is about the public’s right to know.

Does the public have a right to know that those who participate more meaningfully, say, by actually voting, are you who they say they are? This seems to be an entry-level transparency requirement for political participation. Alas no, requiring identification is an invasion of privacy of the highest order clearly meant to discourage voters from exercising a right so fundamental that we can’t dare do anything to protect the integrity of its practice.

Meanwhile, a liberal administration leaks sensitive information, while conducting the most aggressive prosecution campaign against whistle-blowers in our nations history. And that’s according to other liberals, shocked that Team Obama weren’t quite who they said they were.

The Obama administration’s standoffs with Congress have led to historic litigation, but its deliberate, organized efforts to deny access to records go much deeper.  Today, the self-congratulation in 2009 (anticipatory a la Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize that same year) as the most transparent administration ever has the odor of misdirection about it, hinting in retrospection at a clampdown on releasing actual public information to those who seek it.

Consider the following revelations courtesy of internal documents and well-placed sources::

  • The practice of using private email accounts for public business is now epidemic. Scandalous instances include using off-record accounts to arrange the deal with drug companies to lobby for ObamaCare and to execute the scandal-plagued Loan Guarantee Program that Solyndra made famous all avoiding creation of the legally required historical record;
  • The same goes for using private computers and third-party servers, also making an end-run around transparency and recording laws. At least one agency permits employees’ entire email records to be destroyed by accessing them with outside, non-official computers;
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established secret email accounts for its administrator which an internal document says few within the agency know exist, fewer can access, and records of which cannot be found. Curiously, this was done by order of former EPA administrator and Obama energy czar Carol Browner, who famously said she didn’t use her computer for email, in defense of having had its hard drive and backup tapes erased in violation of a federal court’s order.
  • The Obama administration uses industry lobbyists as cut-outs, or go-betweens, to avoid direct written contact with groups certain to be subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, including the activist group Center for American Progress (CAP);
  • They created “handles”, or code names for discussing high-profile or controversial appointees likely to be the subject of information requests;

There are many more examples, from sitting on investigations to enabling the immediate destruction of documents to escape FOIA scrutiny. The Obama administration also systematically politicized FOIA, even installing the equivalent of political commissars at agencies rife with politicization and cronyism, including the Departments of Justice and Energy. They sign off (or not) on the release of public records, a process that historically has been non-partisan.

The record is robust of the disgraceful lengths to which political appointees, activist bureaucrats, and academic axe-grinders go to keep taxpayers in the dark about how public money and power is used, often in the name of obtaining more money and power. All of which, of course, beg the rhetorical call to imagine the outrage were it Karl Rove doing these things.

Some ploys in this war on transparency are sophisticated, others comically crude. Many violate the letter, and all of them the spirit of laws enacted to, in the words of one Supreme Court opinion, let the public know what their government is up to. All of them must be exposed, stopped, and what they are hiding laid bare. That is what “transparency” means.