Commentary Magazine


Topic: electronic transparency laws

Private Email and White House Business

Considering that Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina is attacking Mitt Romney about  “transparency” issues, he probably should have been more careful about following disclosure rules while serving as White House deputy chief of staff. Politico reports that Messina appears to have used a private email address for government-related conversations with health care lobbyists:

A House Energy and Commerce Committee report out Tuesday is stocked with emails sent from private addresses and meetings scheduled away from the building to avoid official record. Among these are several sent to a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist by Messina, President Barack Obama’s then-deputy White House chief of staff, making promises about language for the health care reforms despite the resistance of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the measure.

“I will roll [P]elosi to get the 4 billion,” Messina wrote Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) lobbyist Jeffrey Forbes from his personal account just days before the Affordable Care Act cleared Congress in March 2010. “As you may have heard I am literally rolling over the House. But there just isn’t 8-10 billion.”

The note related to the official business regarding an agreement reached by the Senate Finance Committee and PhRMA on the president’s health care law. Pelosi’s office referred to previous statements in which she declined to address the deal between the administration and PhRMA.

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Considering that Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina is attacking Mitt Romney about  “transparency” issues, he probably should have been more careful about following disclosure rules while serving as White House deputy chief of staff. Politico reports that Messina appears to have used a private email address for government-related conversations with health care lobbyists:

A House Energy and Commerce Committee report out Tuesday is stocked with emails sent from private addresses and meetings scheduled away from the building to avoid official record. Among these are several sent to a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist by Messina, President Barack Obama’s then-deputy White House chief of staff, making promises about language for the health care reforms despite the resistance of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the measure.

“I will roll [P]elosi to get the 4 billion,” Messina wrote Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) lobbyist Jeffrey Forbes from his personal account just days before the Affordable Care Act cleared Congress in March 2010. “As you may have heard I am literally rolling over the House. But there just isn’t 8-10 billion.”

The note related to the official business regarding an agreement reached by the Senate Finance Committee and PhRMA on the president’s health care law. Pelosi’s office referred to previous statements in which she declined to address the deal between the administration and PhRMA.

White House officials are required to use government emails when conducting government business, in order to preserve the electronic records. Private email addresses are far less transparent because messages can be deleted. As Politico notes, Messina’s use of private email could be a violation of the Presidential Records Act of 1978. The Bush White House came under fire for a similar violation in 2007.

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee (which released the Messina emails) are well within their right to raise alarms about this. It’s hard to see how the Obama campaign can continue to attack Romney on “transparency” if it turns out their campaign manager skirted electronic transparency laws while serving in the White House.

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