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Clinton should back open-records bill

by Mike Dorning, Chicago Tribune

Democrats are fond of condemning President Bush for promoting a "culture of secrecy" in the federal government. And high on the list of criticism is an executive order he issued shortly after taking office that allows former and current presidents to indefinitely hold up the release of presidential papers from past administrations.

Hillary Clinton now finds herself in the middle of a controversy over the slow pace of her husband’s presidential library in releasing White House papers that might shed light on the former first lady’s role in his administration. Candidate Clinton has responded with explanations, examined in a Tribune article earlier this week, that the delays are caused by current archives laws and assurances that she and her husband are committed to transparency in their official papers.

But Public Citizen, a liberal-leaning open-government group founded by Ralph Nader, is now challenging Clinton on the point, arguing that if she were serious about opening up government she would throw her considerable political weight behind legislative efforts to overturn Bush’s executive order on presidential libraries.

"If Sen. Clinton is really serious about transparency in the executive branch, she could demonstrate her interest in openness now by signing on to the bill to repeal the Bush Executive Order that is allowing the records to be kept out of the public domain. We hope Clinton and all of the presidential candidates will take a stand on presidential secrecy by supporting the bill," said Angela Canterbury, field and outreach director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division.

While a spokesman for Clinton says the senator supports efforts to overturn Bush’s executive order, Canterbury contends that the legislation would gain more momentum if Clinton would join as a co-sponsor of the legislation and actively support it.

Legislation to overturn the order passed the House overwhelmingly in March but has since been bottled up in the Senate amid reports that Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) has placed a hold on the bill.

"Not only would she be taking a firm position on transparency in government, but she would also be adding a lot of weight towards passing the bill," Canterbury said.

The Senate version of the legislation, S. 886, introduced in March by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), has attracted six co-sponsors. Among them is rival presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Philipe Reines, a spokesman for Clinton’s Senate office, said the office is "reviewing that specific piece of legislation."

He added that Clinton favors overturning the Bush executive order.

"Senator Clinton believes that President Bush’s 2001 Executive Order was wholly unnecessary and is inconsistent with the spirit of the Presidential Records Act, and therefore supports legislative efforts to reverse that order," Reines said.

Originally posted at The Swamp.