Obama’s transparency pledges come under the GOP’s microscope

Jonathan Strong Jonathan Strong, 27, is a reporter for the Daily Caller covering Congress. Previously, he was a reporter for Inside EPA where he wrote about environmental regulation in great detail, and before that a staffer for Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA). Strong graduated from Wheaton College (IL) with a degree in political science in 2006. He is a huge fan of and season ticket holder to the Washington Capitals hockey team. Strong and his wife reside in Arlington.
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Top GOP oversight officials are putting President Obama’s grandiose transparency vows under the microscope this week in two hearings, while a key chairman is voicing displeasure with the modest document disclosures provided by the White House regarding the meetings between Obama and special interest groups that set the stage for Obamacare’s passage.

Tuesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will examine how the Obama administration is following the Presidential Records Act, a key law that requires the preservation White House documents, including emails.

In June, a Daily Caller investigation revealed a cavalier attitude at the Obama White House toward longstanding safeguards designed to prevent abuses of that law — including acts that carry serious legal implications.

Testifying will be Brook Colangelo, a top White House technology official. TheDC reported Colangelo asked technology for special deals based on his position as a public official, which a White House spokesman did not deny. Calls for investigation by top watchdog groups were ignored.

Also Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will examine the Obama White House’s policies on its visitor logs. Obama opened the visitor logs to the public for the first time but has faced criticisms for holes in the records and actions by top aides apparently designed to hide meetings from the records.

Specifically, the New York Times reported that White House aides met frequently with lobbyists at a nearby coffee shop. Lobbyists who meet with the aides there suspected the purpose of the location was to keep their meetings from appearing in the visitor logs.

As a backdrop to the hearings, Republicans are fuming about what they call the “woefully inadequate” document releases by the first GOP oversight inquiry into the White House since Republicans took control of the House – and achieved the authority of congressional subpoena – in January.

Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has requested notes, minutes, and correspondence relating to meetings between Obama officials and special interests setting the stage for passage of Obamacare.

In one major instance, the pharmaceutical drug sector agreed to back the legislation as long as the costs to that sector did not exceed $80 billion. The drug sector eventually spent more than $100 million on television advertisements touting the law.

Last week, 10 weeks after the initial request for documents, Obama’s top lawyer released a calendar of meetings between the interest groups and a top health-care official in the months leading up to the law’s passage.

The 26-page calendar lists over one hundred meetings between Nancy-Ann DeParle and representatives of unions, business groups.

A GOP spokesman for the committee says the disclosure is not enough.

“The White House continues to slow-walk in providing even basic information. This response is a starting point. This list of meetings does not disclose the attendees at these meetings or the meetings held by other [White House Office of Health Reform] staff, as was agreed. We will continue to pursue information about the deals that were struck, and what was left out — the American public deserves to know,” the spokesman said.

Obama’s top layer, Robert Bauer, defended the administration’s conduct in passing the health care law in an April 28 letter to Upton.

“The administration took unprecedented steps to engage the American people and the Congress in a discussion about health care, resulting in historic reform,” Bauer wrote.

DeParle’s calendar does not include approximately 200 meetings with congressional lawmakers and staff, Bauer wrote.

It does include over 100 meetings between DeParle and business groups and unions.

Some of the groups that met most frequently with DeParle include AARP, which represents old people, the unions SEIU and AFL-CIO, the pharmaceutical drug sector, and the insurance industry’s trade association, AHIP.

DeParle’s meetings included numerous one-on-one encounters with the CEOs of specific companies, like a July, 2009 meeting with Tom Ryan, the CEO of CVS-Caremark.

On some occasions, the union SEIU and the left wing think tank Center for American Progress met with DeParle jointly.

Some meetings were far more widely attended than others. Included in the calendar are “stakeholder” forums with as many as 40 attendants.

For instance, on Nov. 11, 2009 — when how federal abortion funding in the legislation was a hot topic of debate in Congress — DeParle met with 13 left-wing women’s groups including NARAL, NOW, Feminist Majority, Planned Parenthood and EMILY’s List.