Richard Nixon was often accused of creating an imperial presidency and of using the levers of power to repress and punish those who disagreed with him. Nixon’s "enemies list" became a national sensation and official actions against those on the list either directly or indirectly prompted his resignation to avoid certain impeachment. But the disgraced president’s use of repressive tactics pale in comparison to those employed by the current crop of Democratic office holders at both the state and the national levels.
President Obama and his administration have led the way. His Justice Department has wire tapped the phones of the Associated Press, investigated a Fox News journalist and engaged in systemic harassment of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service. Unchastened by media and public backlash from these mini-scandals, the administration has ratcheted up the stakes by proposing a wide range of new IRS regulations designed to silence public policy advocacy organizations.
Here in Penn’s Woods two statewide elected officials have taken a page from the Obama playbook. Unable to defend their positions, they have chosen instead to try and silence the opposition. Attorney General Kathleen Kane is waging war against a free press, and State Treasurer Rob McCord has taken to suing a private citizen who legally sought information McCord’s office does not wish to disclose.
Attorney General Kane took office barely over a year ago as a media and voter darling. Her star has fallen rapidly. An investigation into why it took former Attorney General-now-Governor Tom Corbett so long to indict convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky has, well, taken a long time. It shows no sign of ending soon. Pandering to her Left-wing base, Kane refused to defend Pennsylvania’s defense of marriage laws, embroiling her in a controversy over whether or not the state’s highest elected law enforcement official could pick and choose which laws she will uphold.
Then the Philadelphia Inquirer dropped a political nuclear bomb revealing the attorney general scuttled an investigation into four Democratic state representatives allegedly caught on tape accepting bribe money from an informant. Kane claimed the investigation was sloppy and racially motivated; a rational that sank faster than the Titanic when Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, a highly respected prosecutor who happens to be African-American penned an op-ed that was highly critical of the attorney general.
Shortly after the Inquirer’s expose was published Attorney General Kane sought a meeting with the newspaper only to show up with a prominent libel attorney at her side. Her action was an unmistakable message to every newsroom in the state: criticize me and you face expensive legal action. It amounted to nothing less than a frontal assault on the media’s first amendment rights.
State Treasurer Rob McCord’s playing of the official repression card has resulted in little media coverage, but similarly sends a chilling message to those who challenge an elected official. In this case the repression is aimed at an individual activist rather than the news media, although it offers considerable insight as to his view of open records requests.
In January of this year, Pennsylvanians for Union Reform, headed by activist Simon Campbell, filed a public records request invoking a 1929 state law asking the state treasurer for the names, salaries, and other employment related information of all state employees in Pennsylvania. The law cited by Campbell in asking for the information states in part: "The information received by the Auditor General, the State Treasurer and the Secretary of the Budget under this section, shall be public information." Not only did Treasurer McCord refuse his request, but he has sued Campbell in court to stop him from even asking for information and in the process is asking the courts to declare all state laws governing public access to documents be declared invalid except the state’s Open Records Law.
While the Open Records Law strengthened the ability of citizens and the news media to gain access to government records, it contains some notable loopholes which the legislature is currently working to close. By demanding the courts restrict Campbell’s right to even ask for such records, McCord’s actions have a chilling effect on government transparency.
Aside from the core issues involved in each of these cases such acts of official repression should be of great concern to every citizen. Our representative republic can only function for the benefit of we the people when government at all levels is open and transparent, when the freedom of the press is preserved, and the flow of information is easily accessible and readily available.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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