August 16, 2005
By Mark Tapscott
David Keene is chairman of the American Conservative Union, one
of the oldest and largest advocacy groups on the Right. A Reagan
campaign stalwart, he remains a keeper of the conservative faith as
one of the movement's wise men.
Keene is also one of eight major leaders on the Right who are
encouraging Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in his effort to reform the
federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by, among other things,
giving it some real teeth.
Joining Keene in signing a recent letter to Cornyn were Amy
Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy
Research; Mike Krempasky, founder and director of RedState.org;
Mark Levin, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation; Brent
Bozell, president of the Media Research Center; John Berthoud,
president of the National Taxpayers Union; Terence Scanlon,
president of the Capital Research Center; and Alex Mooney,
executive director of the National Journalism Center of Young
"As the federal government becomes ever bigger, more expensive and
more intrusive, it becomes more important than ever that Americans
have greater access to routine official documents that show what is
being done in their name in the nation's capitol, subject only to
reasonable exceptions like national security, law enforcement,
personal privacy, etc.," the conservative leaders told
"Your proposal can reinvigorate the Freedom of Information Act,
which was passed in 1966 over the objections of President Lyndon
Johnson and which today is too often abused or ignored by
government employees at all levels," they said.
Cornyn's proposal is "The Open Government Act of 2005," which he
introduced, with co-sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in February.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, introduced the measure in the U.S. House
The Open Government Act of 2005:
The FOIA guarantees all citizens the right to see all government
documents, subject only to exemptions for national security, law
enforcement, privileged commercial information, personal privacy
and other factors.
Federal agencies received more than three million FOIA requests
last year, with the vast majority coming from individual citizens
and private businesses. Others using the FOIA include conservative
and liberal journalists and bloggers, who are among the most
critical of how the law is administered.
A 2003 National Security Archive survey of 35 agencies that handle
97 percent of all FOIA requests the federal government receives
found "a federal FOIA system in extreme disarray" due to chronic
delays in responding to requests, lost requests, inadequate
searches for relevant documents, lack of accountability and
ignorance of the law's exemptions.
Keene and his colleagues hope to correct this. They represent
several generations of conservative movement leadership and some
important experiences with the FOIA. Levin, who was former Attorney
General Edwin Meese's chief of staff during the Reagan
administration, used the FOIA to obtain Federal Election Commission
documents that helped expose the National Education Association's
active campaign coordination with the Democratic National Committee
and the AFL-CIO during the Clinton years.
Speaking of the FEC, Krempasky is an up-and-comer who has led the
effort to stop that agency's dangerous proposal to regulate
political speech on the Internet. Ridenour leads one of the most
effective shops in the Right's flourishing think-tank sector, while
Berthoud's highly respected NTU has both foundation and advocacy
arms. Scanlon headed the Consumer Product Safety Commission during
the Reagan era and has since built Capital Research Center into a
philanthropic community powerhouse.
Mooney is a key voice in the growing conservative presence in
Maryland and directs a national organization that trains aspiring
young journalists. Bozell's signature might surprise some but, as
one of the pioneers of effective media criticism, he has long
fought for a more independent media.
In their letter to Cornyn, these eight leaders quoted Patrick
Henry, who said: "The liberties of a people never were, nor ever
will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be
concealed from them." No wonder they see transparency as "big
government's greatest enemy."
With folks like these joining the FOIA reform effort, the cause of
accountability in government is getting stronger.
Tapscott the Marilyn and Fred Guardabassi fellow at The
Heritage Foundation, is director of Heritage's Center for Media and
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire
David Keene is chairman of the American Conservative Union, one of the oldest and largest advocacy groups on the Right. A Reagan campaign stalwart, he remains a keeper of the conservative faith as one of the movement's wise men.
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