Sunday, March 21, 2010

COPA at Sunshine Week Events

COPA at Sunshine Week Events in DC - Preliminary After Action Report

After announcing and launching a campaign to convince the House Oversight Committee to conduct oversight hearings on the JFK Act, the week started out slow.

The first major event was a Newseum affair that was attended by COPA director John Judge, former COPA attorney Dan Alcorn and all of the usual Open Records crowd - National Security Archives, Federation of Scientists, et al., none of whom want to have anything to do with the assassination of President Kennedy, or any assassination issue for that matter.

But surprisingly, or maybe not so, the featured speakers at this conference were Rep. Ed Towns and Rep. William Lacy Clay, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee (HOC) and the chairman of the HOC subcommittee on Information Policy and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

When the audience was given an opportunity to ask questions, COPA director John Judge asked Rep. Clay about oversight of the JFK Act and the still sealed House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) on Martin Luther King.

Surprisingly, or maybe not so, Rep. Clay said that while a student in college near Washington (and while his dad was a Congressmen), one summer he attended all of the HSCA hearings that he could, so he is very familiar with the issues.

More significantly, Rep. Clay assigned one of his subcommittee staff members to talk to John Judge about these issues, and Judge invited the staff member to our Wednesday morning COPA strategy and tactics meeting at the Stewart Mott House.

And a beautify St. Patrick's Day morning it was, as I got back on the Oreste Express - the Train of the Assassins, a 5:35 Am AMTRACK in Trenton (NJ) and after the next stop (Philadelphia's 30th St. Station) I met Dennis Bartholomew in the cafe car.

We arrived about an hour early so we walked around the neighborhood, just east of Union Station, behind the Supreme Court, near the VFW post where the Warren Commission met on occassion.

Stewart Mott was/is a liberal philanthropist, and the house is historic and pretty neat, though quite creaky in places. They support a number of Open Government groups and causes, and also house the Fund for Constitutional Government Investigative Journalism Project (that would be FCGIJP), who gave me a modest but effective $3,000 grant in 1992, which I used to travel around the country by train interviewing witnesses and other independent researchers working on the case.

We met in the Board Room, which overlooks a patio garden that we'll use at somepoint in the future to hold a party in celebration of the release of the rest of the records, but don't expect that to happen any day soon.

The meeting was a success in that we all learned a lot. We all made a pitch individually, directing our talking points to the SubCommitte staff representative, and Doug Horne gave a dynamite Power Point Presentation, focusing on the destroyed, missing, wrongfully withheld and tampered with records.

Everybody got their turn and the meeting went about three hours, after which some of us - Judge, Horne, Dennis, Adele, Carol, Bill Simpich and myself went to lunch at the American Cafe at Union Station, where we evaluated the situation. Since it was March 17th - St. Patrick's Day, and a fine day it was, I walked down the hill a block to Kelly's Irish Times pub for a quick pint. Then Dennis and I caught a train back home.

Because of our Mott House meeting however, another meeting was scheduled for Friday morning with some other members of the Information Policy/NARA subcommittee staff, and I alerted Dan Alcorn and Jim Lesar, who attended this meeting with John Judge, Bill Simpich, Adele and a few others.

The staff listened to our people make their pitches individually, and then the chief of staff for Information Policy gave everybody a lesson in how the game is being played, whose pitching now, and what it will take to get a subcommittee hearing on oversight of the JFK Act.

It will take convincing both Ed Towns the Chairman of the House Oversight Commtittee and William Lacy Clay the Chairman of the Info Policy/NARA, to schedule the hearings, but they have to be given clear and convincing evidence that such hearings are necessary and there won't be any negative blowback on them or the Democratic Party before the November elections.

Now that is possible, putting a positive spin on opening the records, and emphasizing how these hearings, if they are held, will be popular with the CSPAN viewers and give them an opportunity to be on TV like the Watergate hearings made certain Congressmen famous.

They are also looking for bi-partisan causes, and our cause is NON-Partisan, that is it is neither democrat nor republican, and both parties should endorse open records, open government, and to free the files.

During Sunshine Week, some Republican (minority) members of the Info/NARA Sub-Committee formed a "Transparency Caucus" - like the Black Congressional Caucus, and other caucus, this one will be bi-partisan and promote our cause(s), so we are certainly going to talk with them and try to get their support.

In addition, Rep. Kucinich is a ranking member of the full committee and the chairman of the subcommittee on Justice, and has a good working relationship with Committee Chairman Ed Towns - they do a Cable TV/Streaming Internet show together on oversight issues. Since Rep. Kuchinich is from Ohio, and John Judge, Bill Kelly and Doug Horne all went to college in Ohio, we have a special bond with him, and will try to get him to influence Rep. Towns of the necessity to hold the JFK Act oversight hearings.

For now, the ball is rolling, though it is still rolling up hill, and more meetings are necessary, and are scheduled and will happen, but it will take a little time before we can hash things out and get things done right.

The bottom line is that it would be easy if it wasn't so hard.

John Judge adds:


Just a note to say thanks for your efforts, travel and participation in the events of Sunshine Week and your lobbying work on the JFK Assassination Records Act oversight hearings and the proposed Martin Luther King, Jr. Records Act. Our presentations were heard and well received on these topics by committee staffers and House Members. I will follow through on the Senate side and with additional House contacts. I will also be sending the attached talking points and a contact list of Subcommittee on Information Policy Members to all the COPA contacts to encourage local representative lobbying and meetings in support of hearings. Once the MLK Records Act is dropped I will get the House and Senate numbers so we can lobby for hearings and passage nationwide. I am glad I was able to assist and facilitate some productive Congressional meetings. Bill Kelly made the room available at the Mott House and will stay in touch with you as well I am sure.

John Judge for COPA

Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA)
PO Box 772
Washington, DC 20044

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1 comment:

William Kelly said...

Transparency Caucus

'Sunshine Week' shines light on transparency By Kevin Bogardus -

Democrats and Republicans have tangled...however, there was some indication of a growing bipartisan consensus for the need to increase government transparency and openness, as Sunshine Week dawned on Washington.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill Tuesday that would put all publicly available government information online in a user-friendly format.

In addition, Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, and Rep. Mike Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois, are working to recruit members for a new “transparency caucus” that would push for greater openness. Issa is the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee; Quigley is a member of the panel.

The moves for more transparency come during Sunshine Week, the annual checkup by government watchdog groups on how the federal government is complying with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

But the Obama administration has also come under criticism for making slow responses to FOIA requests and for using an exemption that hides internal agency decisionmaking much more often than did the George W. Bush administration.

The administration released a memo by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House Counsel Bob Bauer on Tuesday, asking federal agencies if they had devoted enough resources in responding to FOIA requests.

Israel’s bill appears to jibe with the administration’s goal of getting as much information as possible to the public. The New York Democrat said his legislation would take public information out of file cabinets and government warehouses, where it remains out of sight and available only by written request, and put it online.

“This bill would make government more accessible, more efficient and more transparent,” Israel said Tuesday.

The bill instructs federal agencies to publish all their publicly available information online within three years of passage. The lead-time would allow the federal government to put the infrastructure in place to release and post the data.

The legislation says agencies should create a searchable catalog of all their public documents and establishes a panel to write information-sharing guidelines. The bill would also allow citizens to petition the government for more information, similar to the FOIA process.

Israel identified several types of data that would be released under the act, such as administration officials’ financial disclosure statements and official travel logs for trips paid by interests outside the government.

The bill has been referred to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Israel said he is looking for more co-sponsors.

The White House has a similar effort in place. Announced in December 2009, the Open Government Directive instructs federal agencies to post “high-value” information online in easy-to-use formats. In April of this year, agencies expected to release their plans on how to meet the president’s goal.

Dozens of watchdog groups and public interest organizations, such as OMB Watch, Public Citizen, CREW, the Sunlight Foundation and the Personal Democracy Forum, are calling for hearings on Israel's bill.

Along with Israel, other lawmakers have taken an interest in promoting transparency. For example, Issa and Quigley have joined forces and are recruiting members for a bipartisan “transparency caucus.”