No More ‘Ethics’ in the White House?

Mike Brownfield /

It looks like ethics and transparency are yet again taking a back seat at the Obama White House, this time with the little-noticed news that the president’s ‘ethics’ czar, Norm Eisen, is leaving to become a foreign ambassador and will not be replaced.

Instead, his responsibilities (which included oversight of transparency and accountability, among others) are being handed over to White House counsel Bob Bauer. According to the Huffington Post, critics say Bauer is not the kind of guy one would want in charge of ensuring good, ethical government:

“Our priorities are different,” said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation. “This is not a man whose DNA is built on an ethics, openness and a transparency agenda. It’s the opposite,” she said.

As Timothy Carney details in the Washington Examiner, Bauer has a long resume’ of Democratic political campaign work, having represented John Kerry, Obama, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He might be a highly-qualified Democratic operative, but does that mean he should be responsible for ensuring an open and transparent government?

Bauer’s fitness for the job aside, one need only look at President Obama’s track record to realize this is an administration that has failed to live up to the president’s pledge to be the most transparent White House in history.

Take the lengthy, behind-closed-doors health care reform negotiations in January (Obama promised to broadcast meetings on C-SPAN). Or how about the New Black Panther voter intimidation case, in which the Justice Department denied newspaper and Congressional requests for information about the case (not to mention that it ignored subpoenas issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights)?

But you don’t have to take our word for it. In March, The New York Times reported that the move for transparency was “slow and erratic” across the federal agencies. And U.S. News & World Report details instances of Obama’s failures in transparency, including the president’s ironic refusal to take questions at a freedom of the press signing ceremony, a nuclear summit that was closed to the press corps, and a protracted stonewalling over whether or not the White House offered a job to Rep. Joe Sestak in exchange for his not running for Senate.

Will things get worse under Bauer’s leadership? Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute points out that it doesn’t matter who is in charge, but what’s important is “the degree to which the president of the United States decides that this is something that’s important to him.”

Let the record speak for itself.