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Posts Tagged ‘Transparency’

Politico is reporting that Democrats have reached a deal in negotiations over the DISCLOSE Act that would extend an exemption to one portion of proposed campaign finance disclosure rules to a small group of nonprofits, such as the National Rifle Association.

The NRA had objected to some of the disclosure requirements for the new campaign finance proposals, and that had kept moderate, pro-gun Democrats from backing the legislation.

Craig Holman, Public Citizen’s government affairs lobbyist, says the exemption is narrow enough that it shouldn’t derail Congress’ effort to blunt the effect of the landmark Citizens United ruling. That U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January opened the door for corporations and unions to spend an unlimited amount of money to influence our elections. (more…)

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It has been a long, long haul for Congress to fashion a legislative response to the devastating Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, which unleashed a flood of unlimited corporate money in elections. Finally, we could almost see the horizon for a legislative response.

After months of prolonged negotiations among congressional leaders and civic groups, they finally produced the DISCLOSE Act (H.R. 5175), legislation designed largely to require full transparency of who is funding campaign ads by corporations, unions and advocacy groups. The House Administration held two hearings in two weeks on the DISCLOSE Act, marked it up in near-final form, and sent it to the House Rules Committee on Thursday to set the terms of the floor debate, which was expected today (Friday).

Thirty minutes before the Rules Committee was scheduled to hold its hearing, I received notice from a colleague outside the Rules Committee room that a sign has been posted on the door:

“Committee Meeting Postponed until Further Notice.”

Turns out we are nowhere near the horizon. (more…)

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Holman

The DISCLOSE ACT is a straightforward legislative response to a gravely damaging Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections. Far from revolutionary in scope, the DISCLOSE Act provides transparency and accountability in political spending, giving voters a valuable means to discern who are the interests that fund campaign ads.

It is unpredictable how much corporate money will flood into elections in our new unregulated system, but it is reasonable to assume it will be very substantial indeed – and possibly overwhelming in selected candidate races of particular interest to a major corporation.

Even before a single dollar is spent, the threat of corporate spending in elections wields significant influence over policymakers. Imagine the enormous political pressures business lobbyists can now place on Congress as it attempts to grapple with the major economic issues of the day, with the looming prospect of being punished or rewarded through direct campaign spending by the companies subject to the regulations. Corporate influence will reach to virtually all major policies – on financial services, health care reform, climate change, trade – everything. The public, minus the enormous wealth available to corporations, will be further shut out of its own government. (more…)

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If you missed “Building Transparency,” the live online forum last Friday about how the Obama administration is doing in terms of transparency and open government, you can watch the entire two-hour program online. (more…)

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A few weeks ago, the Food and Drug Administration announced a new internal task force that would examine how the agency can become more transparent. The group would seek suggestions from employees, stakeholders and the public in an effort to reach the best conclusions about how the FDA could become more accessible. (For an overview of what the FDA does and does not regulate, see this Time article.)

Sure enough, the FDA has lived up to its promise. Today, Public Citizen’s own Dr. Peter Lurie, deputy director of our Health Research Group, is representing American consumers with testimony before the task force. While current FDA procedures favor secrecy so that drug companies can keep competitors in the dark about products being developed, Dr. Lurie will make three recommendations before the task force that will allow the FDA to become more open to the public.

First, Dr. Lurie will recommend that pre-approval documents should be made available to the public. This will prevent scientists from researching products similar to those that, unbeknownst to them, prior research has deemed unsafe, squandering time and money going down roads already proved to be dead ends. In addition, making this information public can save clinical trial participants from being put at needless risk by enrolling them in research likely to prove fruitless. (more…)

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President Obama’s first acts in office included issuing two memoranda and an executive order directing the government to embrace a new policy of openness and transparency. As someone who assists organizations whose requests under the Freedom of Information Act have been denied, these documents have the potential to make a world of difference.

As background, the Freedom of Information Act lists various categories of documents that are exempt from disclosure, but most of those categories are discretionary. That is, the government can choose to disclose documents that fall under these exemptions. But the Bush Administration’s FOIA policy directed the government to defend any discretionary withholding if there was a reasonable basis in the law to do so. That policy hardly reflects the presumption of disclosure that FOIA embraces.

President Obama, as he put it, is “usher[ing] in a new era of open Government.” He directed that “[i]n the face of doubt, openness prevails… The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.” In this way, President Obama’s memoranda implement many of the suggestions made by Public Citizen, joining over 60 other organizations, in transition recommendations. I believe this directive will have practical effect. (more…)

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More than four years and $10 million later, 14 million “lost” computer files from the Bush administration will be transferred to the National Archives, a Justice Department lawyer told a federal judge, according to The Washington Post.

Of course, this statement came only after the federal judge had ordered people who worked in the president’s executive office to search e-mail archives and recover portable hard drives in a search for files created between 2003 and 2005, the years that the bulk of the files appeared missing.

Meredith Fuchs, a counsel for one of the plaintiffs in the 2007 lawsuit requesting these files, told the Post that the Justice Department’s statement was “striking” because it admitted that 14 million e-mails needed to be recovered, proving the “level of mismanagement at the White House.”

The files in question can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act once they are transferred to the Archives. Adding these files to the public record will help to eliminate much of the secrecy that the Bush administration became famous for and provide answers to the decisions made throughout his presidency.

With a new administration that is a supposed proponent of  government transparency, we’re hopeful that officials will no longer go out of their way to mask their actions from the public.

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