Brown v. Warren: A battle over transparency
BOSTON -- Both candidates in Massachusetts’ closely watched U.S. Senate race have championed the virtues of public disclosure -- but each has limits when it comes to their own records and history.
Republican Sen. Scott Brown has released a three-decade military record, pushed an "insider trading" law banning members of Congress from profiting from nonpublic information learned on the job, and penned a biography that detailed a troubled childhood and sexual abuse at the hands of a camp counselor.
But Brown also opposed a Democratic bill requiring more detailed campaign finance disclosure requirements, kept hidden all but one of the names of a committee that hosted a New York City fundraising event for him and declined to publish his tax returns on his website, although he allowed reporters to view six years of returns in his office.
Brown has also declined to release the names of lobbyists he’s met with in his Senate offices since winning a special election in January 2010 to fill the seat left vacant by the death of longtime Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Brown, however, has been quick to fault his Democratic rival Elizabeth Warren -- a consumer advocate and Har vard Law School professor -- for a lack of disclosure over her claims of Native American heritage.
Warren, who grew up in Oklahoma, has said she was told by her parents that her mother was "part Cherokee and part Delaware." Warren listed herself in law school directories as having Native American heritage, although she insists she’s never gained any hiring benefit from it during her academic career.
Warren has been unable to produce any documents to support the heritage claim, and she hasn’t responded to Brown’s call that she release full employment records from the colleges where she taught.
"The best way to satisfy these questions is for Elizabeth Warren to authorize the re lease of her law school applications and all personnel files from the various universities where she has taught," Brown said. "As candidates for high public office, we have a duty to be transparent and open."
Brown’s campaign also said that while Warren headed the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Wall Street financial bailout and helped set up the Consumer Financial Protect ion Bureau, she wasn’t as forthcoming as she could have been about releasing details on the oversight panel’s budgets and meetings.
Warren, however, in testimony before Congress in July 2011, said she did her best "to set a tone of openness and accountability," including posting her calendar online and releasing "budget updates." Her aides said she also met all public disclosure requirements.
Warren, in turn, has attacked Brown for his opposition to the "DISCLOSE Act" that would require outside political organizations that spend over $10,000 to report that spending to the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours and require organizations that sponsor political ads to disclose their top funders.
Warren said the bill is needed following the Citizens United court decision that removed the federal ban on corporate campaign spending and gave rise to super PACs that can raise unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.
"Without transparency in elections, our democracy is in danger of being hijacked by shadowy organizations with deep pockets," said Warren. "We’ve got to make sure the big corporate interests are held accountable for their actions and voters have the information they need."
Brown defended his decision to oppose the bill in a letter to supporters of the measure, including Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.
Brown said the bill advanced "the political agenda of the majority (Democratic) party and special interests in an effort to gain a tactical and political advantage."
"Even more astonishing, this bill does not treat all organizations equally and does not apply to everyone," he wrote in July 2010. "For example, not all the disclosure requirements apply to labor unions and other special interest groups."
Brown has also declined to list the lobbyists he’s met with in his Senate offices in Washington and Boston.
Brown aides said senators and members of Congress, including those from the Mass achusetts delegation, don’t typically list meetings with lobbyists.
There’s at least one recent precedent. In 2004 when he was running for president, Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, released a list of meetings with hundreds of lobbyists and advocates going back 15 years.
Brown’s aides said Warren has not released lists of lobbyists she met with during her public service.
On the release of their tax returns, both candidates set limits.
Brown released six years of returns but refused to make them available online, instead requiring reporters to come to his campaign office to review them, and barring them from making copies.
Warren released four years’ worth of returns on paper and released summaries online. For a look at the more detailed returns, reporters also had to trek to her campaign headquarters.
Democrats have also criticized Brown for refusing to reveal the names of a committee that hosted a New York fundraiser for him.
A list of out-of-state fundraising events for Brown included an "Evening Reception with New York City Finance Comm ittee" in New York City.
Brown’s campaign said the March 12 event was hosted by Anthony Scaramucci, managing partner of the New York investment firm SkyBridge, but declined to say who else attended. Scaramucci has donated to Republicans and Democrats.
Warren’s campaign also said she plans to release the next round of her campaign finance reports electronically to make it easier for reporters and the public to review them quickly.
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