The bipartisan eclipse of open government

Gray’s blackout: Individual freedom and open government go hand in hand. Unfortunately, recent trends in this country toward official secrecy are leading our freedoms right down into the dark cellar of repression that so many autocratic governments have occupied throughout history.

Gubernatorial long shot Bill Simon doesn’t show any great hope of reversing this trend—at least if his long-withholding of tax records, business details and position statements is any indicator—but the incumbent governor has a proven track record of shielding government from public accountability.

At its annual Open Government Conference, held at San Jose State University last weekend, the California First Amendment Coalition presented Governor Gray Davis with its 2002 Black Hole Award.

The award is presented annually to the person or organization that shows remarkable disdain for the principles of open government. In winning this year’s dishonor, Davis was cited for his “persistent hostility to free speech and the improvement of open government and public information policy,” by award presenter and CFAC President Richard McKee.

“Secrecy has permeated the Davis administration’s actions on everything from the budget to his handling of the energy crisis, when the governor had to be forced by a court to obey the California Public Records Act,” McKee said. “He is truly the prince of darkness when it comes to government transparency.”

CFAC cited recent vetoes by Davis of bills that would have: allowed the attorney general to offer second opinions about whether denials of public-information requests were lawful, protected government attorneys in whistleblower cases, and restored journalists’ access to the California prison system.

The Davis administration was asked to attend the ceremony and respond to the award’s allegations, but it declined, sending instead a form letter regretting that the governor could not attend and sending his “best personal wishes for a successful conference.”

Protecting dad?: Government secrecy seems to be the official policy of the New American World Order, and not just in California.

A year ago, when President George W. Bush blocked the release of Ronald Reagan‘s presidential papers, critics howled that blocking public access was illegal, and historians and journalists later filed suit to void the order.

Now, add Republican Congressman Doug Ose to the chorus of voices denouncing the secretive Bushies. After Watergate, the Presidential Records Act mandated the release of presidential papers 12 years after a president leaves office.

Bush’s November 2001 Executive Order lets a sitting president seal the records of previous administrations, even if an ex-prez wants his released. A few theorists assumed Bush wanted to hush up something his dad did as president or vice president, or that he was protecting re-hired old hands like Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle or Condoleezza Rice from some kind of embarrassment.

As the lawsuit challenging the order proceeded in federal court, the House Government Reform Committee took up the issue earlier this month and voted to overturn Bush’s order, although the bill isn’t scheduled to go to the House floor anytime soon and may not during this session.

Even Chairman Dan Burton (R-Indiana), whose old nemesis Bill Clinton sides with him on the issue, politely criticized the administration and said it must be getting some bad advice. But Ose, quoted in the New York Times, had a harder time holding his tongue.

The order "violates not only the spirit but also the letter of the Presidential Records Act," Ose grumbled at the committee hearing. "It undercuts the public’s right to be fully informed about how its government operated in the past. It is an affront to the citizens of this country."