June 1, 2007

Secret Holder On Open Government: Kyl

Senator Jon Kyl has acknowledged placing a hold on a bill that would strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, which open-government reformers see as key to exposing government processes to sunlight and criticism. Kyl insists that the Department of Justice has concerns that must be addressed before proceeding, even though the bill has strong bipartisan support and was co-sponsored by John Cornyn (R-TX). The other co-sponsor, Pat Leahy (D-VT), will attempt to get a vote despite Kyl's hold:

Kyl revealed his identity Thursday, days after the bill's backers launched an e-mail and telephone campaign, urging supporters to help in "smoking out 'Senator Secrecy.'" They pointed out the irony that an open government bill was being blocked using a rule that allowed secrecy.

Supporters say the bill would plug loopholes in the FOIA law by, among other things, clarifying when federal agencies would have to pay attorneys fees if they miss deadlines to provide information, and bolstering deadlines for the government's response to requests under the law.

Although the Justice Department has objected strenuously to several provisions, advocates say they have answered or addressed the major concerns.

For example, a section has been eliminated that would have lifted exemptions letting the government deny access to privileged or law-enforcement sensitive information, said Leahy spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler.

Mark Tapscott, a longtime supporter of the FOIA, criticizes Kyl's use of a secret hold to block an open-government reform, and questions his conservative credentials:

Memo to Sen. Kyl: Some differences are irreconciliable, such as the difference between those like Cornyn who believe transparency in government is the first essential for democratic accountability, and those in government like the career attorneys at the Justice Department who ALWAYS find a reason to oppose increased transparency.

This gulf cannot be bridged without completely gutting the FOIA reform of whatever substance it retains after three years of negotiation and concessions by its proponents in a vain effort to create a bill that is sufficiently non-threatening to government interests.

Moreover, Sen. Kyl, you have been in Congress more than long enough to know the original FOIA - approved by Congress in 1966 after a decade-long struggle - already has such rigorous exceptions to protect national security considerations that no honest, reasonably alert bureaucrat in the Pentagon or anywhere else in the government can't keep just about any document behind closed doors. Even President Bush has conceded that the government classifies far too many documents.

What is really aggravating here, Sen. Kyl, is that you profess to be a conservative, a believer in limited government and individual liberty, but here you are taking up the cause of Big Government's first line of defense.

Kyl has had to answer that charge quite a bit in the last few weeks, after taking the lead in crafting the immigration compromise. A staunch Republican and normally a reliable conservative, his effort enabled a bill that has conservatives screaming mad and killing donations to his party. Now he's blocking a bipartisan bill that would allow for better access to evidence of government mismanagement, abuse, and fraud.

Mark has this correct. Conservatives rightly fear the rise of big government precisely because of its threat to individual liberty and property. As federal programs grow, conservatives believe that they at least become less efficient and more prone to bad judgements in funding. At worst, they become convenient mechanisms through which to pay off contributors and enrich politicians. The only way to fight that is to make sure that these agencies cannot hide the evidence behind walls of secrecy that have little to do with protecting the nation and everything to do with protecting the right flabby backsides.

Congress should engage the Justice Department in crafting the best possible compromise that allows for free access to information while protecting legitimate interests of the nation. However, as Mark notes, the DoJ may have its reasons for foot-dragging, and at some point Congress needs to take some action. If Kyl believes that the bill is deficient, let him argue that on the floor of the Senate -- and then let the Senate vote on the bill with the debate in mind.


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Comments (6)

Posted by burt | June 1, 2007 8:11 AM

Why did we ever admit Arizona to statehood and give it two senators?

Posted by Paul A'Barge | June 1, 2007 8:28 AM

What is really aggravating here, Sen. Kyl, is that you profess to be a conservative [sic]

You know, Mr Tapscott, the day you profess to be a Conservative is the day we'll begin to take seriously your calling out anyone else out there as a Conservative.

Until then, try making your point without wallowing in labels when labels are convenient.

Posted by CalabasasWinger | June 1, 2007 9:19 AM

At this rate, it will be impossible to tell a Democrat from a Republican.
Where have all the Heroes gone?
Is there one true Conservative left in the Senate? Can anyone name ONE CONSERVATIVE SENATOR?


Posted by Loran | June 1, 2007 3:03 PM

I have lived in Arizona and watched Sen. Kyl in action for many years. He is the best Senator in congress today. I don't know the reason he is blocking this legislation, but I would give him the benefit of letting him explain it before I criticized him.

Posted by Project Vote Smart | June 1, 2007 4:51 PM

Senator Jon Kyl’s history of speeches on the Freedom of Information Act can be found at: Senator Jon Kyl’s Record of Speeches

For more information on Senator Jon Kyl’s position on legal issues please visit Project Vote Smart or call our hotline at 1-888-VOTE-SMART.

Posted by Cindi | June 1, 2007 6:16 PM

For a senator that until now has been known to be 'reliably conservative', Kyl is demonstrating some 'peculiar' tics with regard to the amnesty bill and now FOIA.

Who got to him and what did they use?