RNC to FEC: Open AFL-CIO Files

The Republican Nat’l Comm. asked the Fed. Election Comm’n June 13 to release thousands of pages regarding a FEC case against AFL-CIO and the Democratic Party. RNC complained of an unprecedented move by FEC to yank all of the probe’s files from the public record. In May, after a lengthy staff review to remove confidential materials, FEC made 6,024 pages public, but quickly reversed itself and suppressed the documents four days later.

“Compounding the seriousness of this bizarre action by the commission is the fact that the removal-and presumably the explanation for the removal-was conducted in secret,” RNC gen. counsel Michael E. Toner said in a motion demanding an explanation from FEC and asking that the papers be made public again. Toner added: “Because this motion involves a closed matter, the RNC trusts that all deliberations regarding this motion will be conducted at a public meeting of the commission.”

The motion also indicated that the documents should have been placed on the record sooner because the case was closed nearly a year ago. Toner also suggested that the probe produced thousands of pages of documents involving the Democratic Nat’l Comm. that never have been placed on the public record and should now be made public.

DNC’s gen. counsel, Joseph E. Sandler, said the withdrawal was prompted by vigorous complaints from DNC and AFL-CIO about certain records FEC included in the public file. “[W]e believe some of this material is absolutely exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act and we demand that [FEC] take it off the record,” Sandler said. Sandler and AFL-CIO assoc. gen. counsel Laurence E. Gold want FEC to expunge the coordinated campaign plans detailing the strategy for state-by-state field operations, records showing how AFL-CIO and other unions “go about their business” politically, and the names of DNC and union operatives who provided information during the probe or are mentioned in various documents.

Gold said, “We believe strongly that they should not see the light of day.” Although such documents regarding closed cases have been routinely available to the public in the past, Gold said, FEC’s practices in this area have not necessarily complied with applicable laws. Gold argues that the Republicans should not be allowed to obtain “proprietary information” in a case where AFL-CIO was “exonerated.”  FEC investigators found “an extraordinary degree” of political coordination with the plans of each state Democratic Party and DNC apparently “subject to the approval of the AFL-CIO,” but FEC decided to abide by a 1999 court ruling that took a narrow view of what constituted illegal coordination.

Ex-FEC general counsel, Lawrence M. Noble, said yesterday that he quit the agency last year largely because the panel decided not to appeal that ruling and because of its adoption of regulations that make it almost impossible to prove illegal coordination. Noble believes that the documents eventually would be released through normal FEC processes or through a Freedom on Information Act request. Noble is now the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.  Kent Cooper, co-director of politicalmoneyline.com, said any FEC move to censor the records is too late. His organization made copies of all the pages before they were withdrawn. [Wash. Post 6/14/01; BNA 6/19/01]

“[D]on’t get your hopes up that equality and inclusion are qualities practiced in the union halls. Go to the meetings and fight for change or pay your dues, collect your check and watch while the American labor union movement continues to go down the tubes, led by an unenlightened group of middle-class, middle-aged, clueless white men.”

– Ex-UMW and AFSCME employee Mary A. Uzelac, Letter to the Editor, Charleston (W. Va.) Daily Mail, 6/21/01.