There is a tremendously feisty, extraordinarily effective and yet mostly unheralded conservative non-profit advocacy group whose work over the past three decades has exposed many of the most controversial corruption stories in the nation’s capital.
It’s name is Judicial Watch and a strong case can be made that it is among the best friends ever of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and of the public’s right to know how its business is being conducted.
Having lived here in Washington for too long, I’ve followed and admired Judicial Watch’s exploits for many years. But don’t feel bad If you haven’t heard of it; odds are you live somewhere out in the real world beyond the Washington Beltway where normal people live and work and play.
Even so, you probably have heard about many of the scandals either uncovered entirely by Judicial Watch or in which the group played a key role along with other like-minded outfits across the ideological spectrum.
There were, for example, the “pay-for-play” international trade missions Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown hosted for corporate executives who contributed to President Clinton’s campaigns. And Clinton’s unprecedented pardon in his last few hours in officeof convicted tax evader Marc Rich, whose wife had contributed more than $1 million to the Clinton Library and multiple Democratic Party causes.
Being doggedly non-partisan, Judicial Watch was just as determined to expose waste, fraud and corruption in the ensuing years of the administration of President George W. Bush, beginning with the scandal surrounding Vice President Dick Cheney’s secretive meetings with energy industry executives.
There was also a meeting Cheney hosted at the official vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory for 400 high-dollar donors to the Republican National Committee, a gathering that almost certainly was illegal since it is against the law to raise money for partisan campaigns on federal property. Judicial Watch also challenged the Bush administration’s unilateral invention of unprecedented new FOIA exemptions like the “secret but unclassified” bureaucratic oxymoron.
Judicial Watch has been even more active during the Obama administration, if only because the past three-and-a-half years have seen a presidency pledged at its outset to be the most transparent ever turned into quite the opposite. It was Judicial Watch that forced Obama to begin making public the official logs of visitors to the White House, a fight that is ongoing since the president is still refusing to release names of those with whom he met during most of 2009.
Tom Fitton has captured his organization’s exciting and important journey in “The Corruption Chronicles,” a highly readable, informative and entertaining look at how Judicial Watch lawyers and investigators have uncovered scandal after scandal under presidents and Congresses controlled by both major political parties.
The visitors logs issue is typical. As Fitton explains, “only certain records were released; hundreds of thousands of others were withheld for abritrary and unlawful reasons. In fact, the White House continues to advance the ridiculous claim that the visitor logs are not agency records and are therefore not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.”
Even worse, Fitton writes, “after Judicial Watch issued a press release critical of Obama’s intolerable position on the release of White House visitor logs, his White House invited us over to ‘make a deal’ on the logs, but still refused to change its position. That’s why we’re still federal court over this issue.”
Such determination to see a fight on principle about the critical importance of transparency and accountability in government regardless of who is in office goes a long way toward explaining how Judicial Watch could file more than 75 federal FOIA lawsuits seeking to compel federal officials to release public documents just in the past three years.
I should point out here that I was privileged to review an early galley copy of “The Corruption Chronicles.” But my enthusiasm for this book stems from the fact that for three decades now, this group has been among the most effective in forcing politicians and bureaucrats to come out from the closed doors and do the public’s business in public.
It’s an important story and it’s long past time that it be told. I understand this afternoon that the book is already number one on the Barnes & Noble best sellers list. For more on Judicial Watch and “The Corruption Chronicles,” go here.