Government Reform

Calling All Presidential Candidates: Who Will Stand Up and Be Transparent?

Meet the only three would-be chief execs who will dare to tell you how the government spends your money.

|

Presidential aspirants Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) don't agree on very much.

When it comes to immigration, stem-cell research, abortion, health care, trade–you name it, basically–these three get along about as well as Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, and George Steinbrenner did during the Yankees' legendarily fractious 1977 season.

But they alone among would-be White House occupants have signed a trans-partisan initiative that has the potential to radically transform not just the presidency but the way the federal government does business. Obama, Brownback, and Paul have all signed The Oath of Presidential Transparency, a pledge to follow through on two actions.

First, signatories agree to conduct "THE most transparent Administration in American history–a lofty, laudable, far-reaching goal. This oath signals that whether it's earmarks, directives, or ongoing management of taxpayer expenditures, the goal of transparency will be evident throughout all policy making aspects of your Administration."

Second, signatories commit their presidential administrations "to full and robust implementation of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFAT Act) of 2006." The heart of that legislation, co-sponsored by Obama and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in the Senate and signed into law last year by President Bush, is the creation of a free, searchable website that will list every recipient of every federal award.

Regardless of ideology or partisan affiliation, this is something that every American–with the possible exception of lawmakers who prefer to shroud their activities out of guilt, shame, fear, or some combination of the same–can get behind. Estimated to cost a relatively measly $15 million between now and 2011, the searchable database will give watchdog groups, government reformers, and regular citizens unprecedented amounts of information about where taxpayer dollars are going and how their elected representatives are behaving.

"Knowledge is power," said Francis Bacon. And knowledge of how the federal government is spending our money is a crucial step forward in empowering voters and improving the functioning of American democracy.

The FFAT- authorized database, which will be operated by the Office of Management and Budget, is supposed to be up and running by January 1, 2008. But it's one thing to pass well-intentioned legislation and another thing entirely to implement and enforce it.

Hence, The Oath of Presidential Transparency, a project spearheaded by the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes the print and online editions of reason. Joining together three dozen diverse groups ranging from the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons to the Electronic Frontier Foundation to the voter-rights outfit Velvet Revolution, the Oath provides voters with a crystal-clear understanding of the candidates' priorities when it comes to government spending. (Go here for a complete list of participating organizations.)

"Signing the Oath of Presidential Transparency was a no brainer for me," says Rep. Paul, the first candidate to put his name on the pledge. " I will aggressively pursue full openness and accountability within my administration if elected president."

"Every American has the right to know how the government spends their tax dollars, but for too long that information has been largely hidden from public view," says Sen. Obama, whose role in creating FFAT can't be overstated. "This historic law will lift the veil of secrecy in Washington and ensure that our government is transparent and accountable to the American people. And I will be proud to fully implement and enforce this law as president."

"Americans need to feel they can trust their government," says Sen. Brownback. "As president I will continue my record of supporting policies that increase government transparency and boost confidence in our democratic system."

The Reason Foundation's director of policy development, Amanda K. Hydro, tells me that she has repeatedly contacted the campaigns of every declared presidential candidate in the Republican and Democratic parties who met Federal Election Commission filing requirements.

So far, only Obama, Brownback, and Paul stand in the sunlight by supporting transparency in government spending. As the 2008 race for the White House shifts into high gear, perhaps Hillary Clinton, Rudolph Giuliani, John Edwards, Mitt Romney, and the other candidates will take the pledge for transparency (if and when they do, you'll read about it on Reason Online).

Or perhaps they will see fit to stay in the shadows.

Which, in its own way, will tell prospective voters all they need to know come November 2008.

Nick Gillespie is editor-in-chief of reason.

NEXT: Who Shall Inherit the Earth? The Geek Shall!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. This should intrigue libertarians wondering about an Obama presidency (raises eyebrow)

  2. There’s no point wondering about an Obama presidency because HRC will be the Democratic nominee. This is fundamentally different that speculating about a RON PAUL presidency. It is merely unlikely that RON PAUL will be elected, but entirely possible. OTOH Hillary owns the controlling shares of the Democratic Party and CAN NOT POSSIBLY be defeated for the nomination.

  3. Warren,

    (blinks)(blinks again)(shrugs)(kicks rock)(wanders off)

  4. to cost a relatively measly $15 million between now and 2011, the searchable database will give watchdog groups, government reformers, and regular citizens unprecedented amounts of information about where taxpayer dollars are going and how their elected representatives are behaving

    Guesses on how much this will actually cost?

  5. I thought Reason Foundation just loooooved Rudy G.

    Why hasn’t he signed?

  6. Where’s Dondero to tell us why Rudy is so awesome he doesn’t need to pander to us. After all, USNews said he’s a libertarian.

  7. Warren,

    Just becasue the Repubican Party operates according to monarchist rules of succession does not mean the Democratic Party does as well.

    Al Gore had a real fight on his hands just to beat Bill Bradley, fer Chrissakes.

    Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman had the greatest backing from the Democratic establishment in the 2004 primaries. John Kerry was an unpopular loner with a bad relationship with his colleagues.

    And Bill Clinton in 1992 – fuhgettabout it! A welfare-reforming governor of Arkansas?

    Need I bring up Jimmy Carter?

    Hillary Clinton may well win this nomination, because she’s running a great campaign, because OMG OMG a woman!, but it is still very much an open contest.

    And if Al Gore gets in, she’s toast.

  8. Gore? The guy who lost to Bush? I’ve never understood your excitement about a Gore campaign.

    Otherwise, I more or less agree–Clinton is hardly a shoe-in. She could win, but I think she’s very likely to run into problems in some major states. Florida is a good example of a place where I think she’ll flop in a major way.

  9. Hillary Clinton will get the nomination because:

    a) Democrats are fools who think Americans want humorless wonks for President. What a great strategy that’s been!

    b) She’s a woman and a Clinton.

    c) She’s seen as a moderate candidate, thanks to her waffling on Iraq.

    I would love-love-love to see a Paul v. Clinton race. An anti-war Republican against a pro-war Democrat. Heads would explode all across the country.

  10. These candidates say they’ll be transparent, but I see right through ’em.

  11. Shoo-in, for Pete’s sake. “Shoe-in” makes no sense.

  12. Pro Libertate,

    Two words: Do Over.

    Coming out against the Iraq War before it started, without being a dirty fucking hippie, is a very strong hand these days.

  13. Come on, Pro Lib, tow the line on your spelling!

  14. Another point for Obama.

    Interesting group that’s signed it:
    -a fairly conventional liberal
    -probably the most socially conservative candidate
    -the libertarian candidate

  15. As a database weenie living in the DC area, I should really try to get a job with the group making this searchable database.
    An enormous well-funded IT project that the stakeholders don’t want to actually work. It’s like hitting the jackpot. Think about how much time I would have to read H&R!

  16. If the rest of them just signed the damn thing then they’d all go back to being transparent again. If everybody’s special, nobody is!

  17. Oops. I guess I have footware end mine win I thing of Sen. Clinton.

    Heh, heh. Maybe I should do this all the time. It’s liberating.

  18. joe,
    Re 1:50pm That is all history. Within the DP HRC is an irresistible force, resistance is futile.

  19. This is a amazingly laudable goal. I personally would be happy if we started with an even simpler set of goals.
    First, make the Congressional Record a, well record of what happens on the floor of congress instead of the story telling hour it is now.
    Secondly, make every congressional vote a recorded vote. I am tired of finding crap ass laws being passed by a “voiced majority” and no way to see how my Congresscritter voted.

    That being said, it dumbfounds me how the front-running Presidential nominees basically just said “I have lied to you and I am going to continue to lie to you” and the public doesn’t so much as blink.

  20. Dan, that was actually pretty funny.

  21. “Shoe-in” makes no sense.

    I think Pro Lib is saying he’d like to give Hillary the boot.

  22. “Shoe-In” makes no sense?? How hard is it to put your foot in a shoe?

  23. First, signatories agree to conduct “THE most transparent Administration in American history–a lofty, laudable, far-reaching goal. This oath signals that whether it’s earmarks, directives, or ongoing management of taxpayer expenditures, the goal of transparency will be evident throughout all policy making aspects of your Administration.”

    Yeah, the Hawaii state legislature seems to annually pass a bill promising transparency — with the details fleshed out in closed caucus meetings not open to the public.

    How naive do you have to be to believe such campaign promises unless the candidate has a long track record of actually being transparent — something Obama simply hasn’t been in office long enough to do?

  24. This Oath is nonsense, which should be transparently clear to anyone familiar with how politics works.

  25. Warren,

    I’ll grant that Hillary pretty much owns the Democratic DC establishment, but one of the most significant political stories of the past three years has been how that establishment has ceded power over control of the party.

    Howard Dean, who made every Democratic lifer in DC freak the hell out, is now DNC Chair. Joe Lieberman, the Vice Presidential candidate, has been driven out of the party. Yearly Kos was probably the most important single event on the Democratic calender this year.

  26. tow the line

    Auuuuugh, it burns, it burns! Joe, I know that was intentional, but it hurts my soul. Read this fantastic essay by Orwell for an explanation why.

  27. Staleness of imagery and lack of precision?

    You could literally knock me over with a feather.

  28. Warty,

    My respect for Orwell was seriously damaged by reading that piece of shite.

  29. jh –
    “This Oath is nonsense, which should be transparently clear to anyone familiar with how politics works.”

    Ditto that. Efficiency and honesty is anti-government.

  30. nm:

    It’s not my fault that your style is pretentious and Latinized, your metaphors flyblown, and your imagery stale.

  31. I look forward to voting for Ron Paul in 2008-!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.