Presidential Library TransparencyJuly 15, 2008 - by Donny Shaw
Over the weekend, video was released showing Stephen Payne, a lobbyists with close ties to the White House, offering direct access to Dick Cheney, Condoleeza RIce, or national security adviser Steven Hadley in exchange for a donation of “a couple hundred thousand” to the Bush library. There is a bipartisan bill in Congress designed to stop exactly this kind of money-for-access scheme, but it is being blocked from becoming law by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), who says he will only remove his objection if it’s amended to take effect after fundraising for the Bush library is finished.
The video, which you can see here, shows Payne offering to set up high-level meetings for Askar Akayev, the former President of Kyrgyzstan, and to “send positive statements made back from the administration about ‘This guy wasn’t such a bad guy, many people have done worse’.”
Unlike financial contributions to electoral campaigns, donations to presidential libraries are entirely unregulated. There is no limit on the size of the donations and the fundraisers are not required to report who the contributors are. And they can take money from corporations and foreign governments, which is something electoral campaign can’t do. It’s an area of money in politics that is basically asking for corruption.
The Presidential Library Donation Reform Act of 2007 would make presidential library funding information available to the public in order to discourage quid pro quo schemes like the one caught on the video. The bill would require the following information to be put online in a free, searchable, sortable, and downloadable database:
>(i) The amount or value of each contribution made by a contributor referred to in paragraph (1) in the quarter covered by the submission.
>(ii) The source of each such contribution, and the address of the entity or individual that is the source of the contribution.
>(iii) If the source of such a contribution is an individual, the occupation of the individual.
>(iv) The date of each such contribution.
But the bill is being held up in the Senate.
In March 2007, it was approved by the House on a vote of 390-34. But when it was brought up for consideration in the Senate this February, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), put a hold on it, and demanded that it be amended first so that it’s only applicable to Presidents serving on or after January 21, 2009. Holds, like the one put on this bill by Senator Stevens, are complex parliamentary beasts, but ,basically, they are pre-emptive filibusters and are almost never overridden.
Stevens stated on the Senate floor that he was concerned about the fairness of the bill, saying that he would support it if it was earlier in the administration’s tenure. However, similar bills have been introduced in previous Republican-led Congress’ without receiving any action.