One more citizen eager for information on how his tax dollars are spent has just learned a key lesson about the most transparent administration in history: It is futile to ask the Obama administration for anything -- unless there's something in it for the administration. Like, say, a flood of sensitive information leaked from the highest political levels, possibly making Obama look good if mostly placing American citizens, covert assets and several countries' operations at risk.
This week's more benign revelation is the White House recipe for Honey Brown Ale, with a curiously over-the-top public relations rollout -- dontcha want a White House that makes beer? (cough-Romney's a Mormon-cough) -- prompted by a request under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.
FOIAing a White House is a good test of its commitment to transparency. Some White House offices are exempt from the law, several are expressly covered, but most offices, being creatures of whimsical, ad hoc organizational charts, are whatever the White House says -- unless you've got lawyers, years and money.
But this crowd is all about transparency. Just ask them. Though, a "testy exchange" with spokesman Jay Carney, insisting that campaign promises of transparency prove they've been transparent, affirms Paul Ryan's quip that Obama "puts promises on the record, and then calls that the record." Obama even closed to the press an event to receive an award for transparency. Really.
Having FOIAed the White House several weeks ago, I found the White House release of the beer recipe to be intriguing. My requests came after that reprehensible effort to tie a woman's death from cancer to Mitt Romney -- specifically, after Obama deputy campaign manager and former White House aide Stephanie Cutter implausibly said she didn't know the facts of the woman's sickness, "even though she was on a conference call that featured [husband Joe] Soptic in May."
The apparent lying about what Cutter knew and when she knew it led me to wonder also what she and her old White House mates had put in writing about this short-lived centerpiece of Obama's re-election campaign.
So I asked two White House offices -- the Office of Public Engagement and Office of Communications -- for "any and all record(s), correspondence, memoranda, analysis, email or other records using the word 'Soptic' " dated between April and the present.
The response has been silence. No usual response letter acknowledging the request and assigning it a tracking number, required by law within 20 working days. No assertion that they believe these offices to somehow be exempt from FOIA. Just a stonewall.
Obama assigned oversight of FOIA compliance to then-White House Counsel Bob Bauer. As Sunlight Foundation Policy Director John Wonderlich told Politico, "Their line was, 'Remember, Bob Bauer is the White House counsel. It's a big step up. These issues will really be addressed.' " But, alas, "We never heard anything again from Bauer. ... The transparency portfolio did get upgraded," but to those who "view it as a liability."
In a new book later this month, I will reveal in detail how liberals have turned their pet achievement of transparency in government on its head. Public servants are now entitled to a zone of privacy around their public service. And the private citizen or corporation choosing to participate in the political debate -- especially by giving to inconvenient policy groups, landing you on what the Wall Street Journal's Kim Strassel calls Obama's Enemies List -- are begging to have their lives laid bare for scrutiny.
Administration officials, from the highest levels of the White House down to career liberal activists in government, use private email accounts to hide public business. Private computers, too. Even systems that automatically destroy, from the outside, all trace of public records.
They've ordered the creation of secret email accounts for the most senior among them, who are unquestionably subject to FOIA. To protect from scrutiny specific appointees or outside groups' influence, they employ what spies call "tradecraft": handles and cutouts.
Obama and liberals just aren't that into transparency when they're in charge. Their opponents must bare all. The most transparent administration in history has turned transparency on its head. Apparently, it's got things to hide.
Christopher C. Horner is a Washington attorney and author of the new book "The Liberal War on Transparency: Confessions of a Freedom of Information 'Criminal' " (Threshold Editions).