ABC News’ Karen Travers reports: On Monday good-government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked a House committee to look into whether the Obama White House violated federal laws regarding electronic records by using private email accounts to communicate with lobbyists and meeting with lobbyists outside the White House. CREW wrote a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform asking it to investigate and hold hearings to determine any violations of the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and Federal Records Act (FRA). The group’s letter is in response to an article in The New York Times on June 25 that said Obama White House officials have met “hundreds of times” over the last 18 months with prominent Washington lobbyists. “But because the discussions are not taking place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they are not subject to disclosure on the visitors’ log that the White House releases as part of its pledge to be the “most transparent presidential administration in history,” the New York Times reported . The Times also reported that lobbyists said they “routinely” get emails from White House staff members’ personal accounts, not their White House emails which are subject to public records review. The White House declined to comment on the CREW letter calling for the investigation.
As a candidate and as president, Obama has been sharply critical of lobbyists and their influence in the political process. He pledged to institute greater transparency and to close the revolving lobby door in Washington. “It is outrageous that White House staff are deliberately using personal email accounts – in violation of the law – to hide the fact that they are in touch with lobbyists,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a paper statement. “This is what all the administration’s anti-lobbyist rhetoric gets you – less transparency. Rather than being open and clear about who is influencing White House policy, the White House is trying to hide who it’s really talking to. Even worse, the public is being suckered with lofty rhetoric about the evils of the same lobbyists White House officials are meeting with.” This isn’t the first time CREW has called the Obama White House out for transparency. After CREW filed a lawsuit last summer to force the President Obama to share White House visitors logs with the public, the White House on September 4 announced its new disclosure policy to regularly make public most of the names of visitors to the White House. -Karen Travers