MSNBC reports that the Obama administration has denied its request for the names of individuals who have visited the White House since the Inauguration. Additionally, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington announced today that it is suing the Department of Homeland Security after the non-partisan organization was denied a request for records of visits of “leading coal company executives.” The Obama administration’s explanation:
The administration ought to be able to hold secret meetings in the White House, “such as an elected official interviewing for an administration position or an ambassador coming for a discussion on issues that would affect international negotiations,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt.
The Bush administration made the same arguments, which were ruled against twice in federal court. In fact, before his election, Obama promised that he would end the Bush administration’s practice of holding secret meetings in the White House, which is supposed to be “the people’s house”:
— In 2006, Obama critized Cheney’s secret energy meetings: “When big oil companies are invited into the White House for secret energy meetings, it’s no wonder they end up with billions in tax breaks.” [1/26/06]
— In 2007, Obama promised on his first day to: “launch the most sweeping ethics reform in history to make the White House the people’s house and send the Washington lobbyists back to K Street.” [6/22/07]
— In 2008, Obama told Wisconsin voters: “This change will not be easy. It will require reforming our politics by taking power away from the lobbyists who kill good ideas and good plans with secret meetings and campaign checks.” [9/22/08]
The day after the Inauguration, Obama issued a memo saying, “my Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.” Obama had a long record of increasing accountability and transparency in government before he entered the White House. By opening up access to the White House visitor logs, Obama has an opportunity to fulfill his promise of making the White House the people’s house.