Sunshine Week — sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation — started Monday and continues through the weekend with events celebrating the public’s right to know and the importance of freedom of information in government. A main feature of Sunshine Week 2008 is a survey of presidential candidates on their attitudes toward open government issues.
Sen. Hillary Clinton’s responses were featured Monday on the Sunshine Week Web site. Clinton told the Sunshine Week survey that she believes “in an open, transparent government that is accountable to the people. Excessive government secrecy harms democratic governance and can weaken our system of checks and balances by shielding officials from oversight and inviting misconduct or error.” She promised to “make it clear to everyone in the executive branch that I expect my administration to be open and responsive to the public.”
She further promised to appoint an attorney general of similar mind, to roll back President Bush’s executive order making release of presidential documents dependent upon the whims of former chief executives, and to put federal contracts and budgets online. Finally, according to Sunshine Week, she promised that if elected she would “prospectively” release names of donors to the Clinton presidential library and the Clinton foundation.
Neither Sen. Barack Obama nor Sen. John McCain has responded to the Sunshine Week survey, but Clinton is uniquely positioned to demonstrate good faith by delivering on her promised openness now, instead of after the election. Her first step should be clearing the path for journalists, academics and other researchers seeking access to the millions of key Clinton administration documents hidden in the Clinton presidential library. The documents can shed needed light on her role during her husband’s administration in such controversies as the White House travel office firings, her health care task force’s flouting of federal public meetings laws and her directives in the aftermath of Vince Foster’s death.
Also, she should let the sun shine now on documents concerning her weekly meetings with officials from the White House Counsel’s office and the Justice Department to vet judicial nominees. And she should open access to all documents on her role in foreign policy decisions concerning Kosovo, Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Rwanda. Clinton’s release today of her schedules as first lady hopefully will shed some light on her involvement with these issues. Step two is to release all of her tax returns, as is customary for serious presidential candidates. Step three is to make public all donor names to the Clinton library and foundation.
Anything less than these three immediate steps and Clinton’s open governmentpromises won’t mean a thing to anybody except gullible journalists who accept them at face value.