It was another busy week here in Washington and, yet again, there is nothing really positive to report. Here are a few of the most salient headlines you may have missed.
The Center for Responsive Politics put a definitive tally on total spending in the 2012 elections, which it calculates comes to a whopping $6.3 billion, the most expensive election cycle ever. While President Obama’s re-election campaign outspent the campaigns of all Republican presidential rivals put together, spending by outside groups heavily favored Republicans.
In the “bonehead idea of the week category,” conservative lawyers called for the elimination of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and further legal challenges to “lessen the teeth” of the agency — as if it could be any less than it is now. While CREW continually has called into question the existence of the FEC given how dysfunctional it is, it defies commonsense — especially in a post-Citizens United world — to do anything but strengthen the FEC through structural reforms and by appointing commissioners who will actually enforce the law.
Dark clouds continue to swirl over the head of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and no, not for what appears to be an elaborate smear campaign concerning prostitutes. Sen. Menendez has been on CREW’s radar for some time now, stemming from a tipster who claimed Sen. Menendez had engaged in criminal acts in the Dominican Republic. While the original charges involving prostitution now appear to be lies ginned up as part of an elaborate smear campaign, a host of other alleged improprieties have surfaced. Now it appears a federal grand jury in Miami may be, emphasis on “may be,” investigating the senator for his role in advocating for the business interests of a wealthy donor and friend.
In case you missed it, CREW held a Sunshine Week event to discuss whether and when the government is justified in keeping secret opinions authored by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), such as those authorizing the killing of Americans abroad suspected of ties to terrorist groups. There was widespread agreement that by refusing to publicly release OLC memoranda, the U.S. government has effectively created a set of secret law that hurts democracy. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who has spent the past two years pushing for the release of OLC memoranda, opened the discussion.
In other Sunshine Week news, the Associated Press released a report detailing how the U.S. government, led by the Pentagon and CIA, censored in the name of national security files that the public requested last year under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) more often than at any time since President Barack Obama took office. In addition, the Center for Effective Government (formally OMB Watch) released a report documenting how, among other things, federal agencies are processing more requests but with far more redactions.
Sunshine week featured an array of other informative panel discussions, including a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled, “TIME CHANGE: We the People: Fulfilling the Promise of Open Government Five Years After The OPEN Government Act,” which aimed to strengthen FOIA and created a 20-day period of compliance for FOIA requests. Among the witnesses appearing before the committee was Thomas Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive.
Mr. Blanton shared the results of a government-wide audit, which indicated a majority of federal agencies have not updated their FOIA regulations to comply with legislation, which became law in 2007, or President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder’s policy changes in 2009. Mr. Blanton went further by taking Department of Justice witness Melanie Pustay to task for misrepresenting the true state of FOIA in the federal government and insisting outdated agency FOIA regulations do not need to be updated to comply with the 2007 FOIA amendments. You can watch the full hearing here.
Thank You, Senator Levin
Lastly, and sadly, an item overlooked from last week. The Senate will be losing a longtime dedicated public servant, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who announced he will not seek re-election in 2014. Sen. Levin has been a champion of shedding light on corporate tax avoidance schemes, and has pledged to double down on these efforts to bring an end to this drain on the U.S. Treasury. More importantly to CREW, Sen. Levin, as chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, pledged to dedicate his final years probing the failure of the IRS to enforce tax laws and stem the flood of hundreds of millions of secret dollars flowing into our elections. We look forward to a fruitful final two years from the senator and applaud him for his service.
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