Obama Delicately Assaults Romney Over Transparency

PHOTO: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

President Obama is withdrawing from one war, the war over women, but he is escalating another: the war over transparency.

Obama's reelection team was out in full force Monday to put pressure on Mitt Romney over what Democrats say is a history of secrecy, in both his personal life and his political ambitions. They organized press conferences and seized on reports from Sunday in which Romney was overheard disclosing new details of his policies to rich donors to his campaign.

But just as an aggressive effort to court women voters backfired, the Obama camp's attention on transparency is open to backlash, too. Open-government advocates have long criticized Obama for what they say is a failure to live up to his campaign promise to truly change the practices of the executive branch.

"The White House is an example of a glass-half-full, half-empty when it comes to transparency," said Gary Bass, the former director of a government watchdog group that presented Obama with an openness award in a private ceremony last year.

Both sides in the fray have plenty of gunpowder.

Democrats laid out their hand on Monday, calling on Romney to release his tax returns going back several years; disclose the top money "bundlers" to his campaign; detail his overseas investments; explain the deleted emails and missing hard drives from his time as governor of Massachusetts; and, thanks to reporters eavesdropping on a private fundraising event on Sunday, elaborate on why he told top donors that as president he would consider cutting federal agencies for education and housing.

The Obama campaign called Romney's disclosures "secret cuts" to the departments of education and housing and urban development.

"Americans have always expected to be able to review a presidential candidate's records and plans, the opportunity to lift up the hood and kick the tires," Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement.

The campaign also organized regional press conferences. Surrogates in Philadelphia and Boston demanded that Romney release his tax returns. Democrats from New York hopped on a conference call to lambast Romney's "penchant for secrecy." On that call, Sen. Chuck Schumer said Romney has "made a disturbing habit of hiding information from the voters."

Republicans fired their cannons, too, but their counterattack was on Capitol Hill, not Romney's campaign.

The GOP's top watchdog on the Hill, Darrell Issa, spent the afternoon grilling members of the General Services Administration over an inspector general's report that detailed waste at a Las Vegas conference and led to the resignation of the agency's administrator. Issa has already charged that the Obama administration knew about the improper use of taxpayer money but "didn't act until the press got wind of it."

"This is typically what has been happening in this administration," Issa said this month. "They are only transparent when they are discovered."

The GSA official at the heart of organizing the conference, Jeff Neely, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid self-incrimination Monday and declined to answer questions.

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