Much-ballyhooed Obama transparency over? 

President Barack Obama has abolished the position in his White House dedicated to transparency and shunted those duties into the portfolio of a partisan ex-lobbyist who is openly antagonistic to the notion of disclosure by government and politicians.

Obama transferred “ethics czar” Norm Eisen to the Czech Republic to serve as U.S. ambassador. Some of Eisen’s duties will be handed to Domestic Policy Counsel Steven Croley, but most of them, it appears, will shift over to the already-full docket of White House Counsel Bob Bauer.

Bauer is renowned as a “lawyer’s lawyer” and a legal expert. His résumé, however, reads more “partisan advocate” than “good-
government crusader.” Bauer came to the White House from the law firm Perkins Coie, where he represented John Kerry in 2004 and Obama during his campaign.

Bauer has served as the top lawyer for the Democratic National Committee, which is the most prolific fundraising entity in the country. Then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., the caricature of a cutthroat Chicago political fixer, hired Bauer to represent the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In the White House, Bauer is tight with Emanuel, having defended Emanuel’s offer of a job to Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., whom Emanuel wanted out of the Senate race.

Another Bauer client was New Jersey Sen. Robert “Torch” Torricelli in 2001. When one Torricelli donor admitted he had reimbursed employees for their contributions to the Torch — thus circumventing contribution limits — Bauer explained, “All candidates ask their supporters to help raise money from friends, family members and professional associates.”

Bauer’s own words — gathered by the diligent folks at the Sunlight Foundation — show disdain for openness and far greater belief in the good intentions of those in power than of those trying to check the powerful. In December 2006, when the Federal Elections Commission proposed more precise disclosure requirements for parties, Bauer took aim at the practice of muckraking enabled by such disclosure.

Most telling might have been Bauer’s statements about proposed regulations of 527 organizations: “If it’s not done with 527 activity as we have seen, it will be done in other ways,” he told the Senate Rules Committee.

“There are other directions, to be sure, that people are actively considering as we speak. Without tipping my hand or those of others who are professionally creative, the money will find an outlet.”

This perfectly captures the Obama White House’s attitude toward disclosure. Sure, they publish the names of all White House visitors, but, as the New York Times reported a few weeks back, White House folks just meet their lobbyists at Caribou Coffee across the street. Sure, they restrict the work of ex-lobbyists in the administration, but lobbyists who de-list aren’t questioned.

Did I mention Bauer was a lobbyist? At Perkins Coie, Bauer lobbied on behalf of America Votes, Inc., a Democratic 527 funded by the likes of the AFL-CIO and ACORN.

The Sunlight Foundation is also concerned about the fact the White House no longer has anyone whose job is transparency, as Eisen’s job was. John Wonderlich, at SunlightFoundation.com, lists a few transparency promises on which the president hasn’t followed through, including earmark transparency, a single website (Ethics.gov) with all ethics and accountability information and better lobbying disclosure, among others.

As with his other reformer rhetoric, Obama’s transparency is mostly smoke and mirrors.

Timothy P. Carney is The Washington Examiner's lobbying editor.

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