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Promises Clock

Politicians and officials make promises all the time, so they can be forgiven if they occasionally lose track of what they said they would do and when. We created a feature on our front page to make it easier for us and them to see how many days – and hours, minutes and seconds – have passed since their initial vow. Any other promises you'd like us to put a timer on? Send them our way.  

Treasury Slow to Keep Transparency Promise

Back in January, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner made a clear promise: All TARP investment agreements would be put on the Internet “so that taxpayers can see how their money is being spent and the terms these institutions must agree to.”

But Treasury has not yet kept that promise. A review of the contracts posted on the department’s Web site shows that most contracts have not been posted. By our count, contracts are available for only 267 of the financial institutions participating in the Treasury’s Capital Purchase Program, about 45 percent of the 589 institutions that have received money. As of today, the Treasury has invested $197.6 billion through the program.

The Treasury Department’s announcement in late January said that going forward, the contracts would be posted within 10 business days of having been completed, and that the department would work “in the coming weeks” to make public all contracts completed before the announcement.


Middlesex County (Mass.) District Attorney Unresponsive to Public Records Act

On Apr. 20, 2009, the clock was stopped as the Middlesex County district attorney, five months after our original request, sent us the documents.

In the course of our investigation into district attorneys’ offices that earn kickbacks from a company that collects bounced checks, we used public records laws to obtains thousands of pages of contracts and budget documents. Only one DA’s office refused to provide records.

That would be Middlesex County, Mass., and District Attorney Gerry Leone.

We filed our first request on Oct. 20, 2008. Leone’s office didn’t respond within the 10-day period required by law, so we turned to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, which monitors compliance with the Massachusetts Public Records Act. For several weeks, we worked with the secretary’s office because no one at Leone’s office would return calls or e-mails.

On Dec. 16, 2008, the secretary’s office wrote a letter to assistant Middlesex DA Kerry Kilcoyne (PDF), informing her the requested records are public documents and that failing to provide them “may be a violation of law.” We filed a new request March 19 but still have no records. We start the clock at Dec. 16, 2008.

Disclosure of Stimulus Lobbyists

President Barack Obama issued this memo, which regulates communications by lobbyists who work the stimulus beat.

Here’s how it will work, according to the memo: if a lobbyist wants to discuss a specific stimulus project with a government agency, the communication must be in writing. That agency will then post those letters or emails on its recovery web site within three business days. Lobbyists are allowed to speak in person with government officials about general policy issues, but if they do, the agency officials will document the meeting in writing and then post the details on the website within three business days.

On May 29, 2009, the rule was changed to state that communications with all registered and unregistered lobbyists, or with “anyone else exerting influence on the process,” are covered and must be disclosed – but with a Roger Maris-sized asterisk. Read more here.

Meanwhile, we will reset our promise clock, to be stopped when a non-lobbyist communication shows up on an agency site.

A Concise Document from Roland Burris

Roland Burris has said for weeks that he never made an inconsistent statement about how he became a senator, and that he is preparing a document to prove it.

On Feb. 17, Burris told reporters there was “never any inappropriate conversation between me and anyone else” leading to his appointment last year and his lawyers were “working on a concise document that will be provided to the public later this week."

We start the clock at Feb. 17, 2009 2:55 p.m., the time of this Chicago Tribune post about the Burris' Peoria presser.

Senator Dodd's Mortgages

When a Portfolioinvestigation reported how Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) got friendly treatment from a major player in the mortgage industry he oversees, he promised to release mortgage documents to put the controversy to rest. "There ain't much to the story," he told the Hartford Courant.

Back in 2003, Sen. Dodd took part in a VIP program called “Friends of Angelo” (a reference to Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo) in which participants received special rates and had fees waived; Dodd reportedly saved about $75,000 on the life of two loans.

Dodd acknowledged he knew he had VIP status but didn’t believe it was because he was a U.S. Senator or on the Senate committee that oversees the mortgage industry.

According to, Dodd has collected $20,000 in campaign contributions from Countrywide since 1989.

The countdown begins with Dodd’s July 24, 2008 promise to the Hartford Courant that he would release his mortgage documents to the public. Since then, Dodd has said repeatedly that he’ll get around to it someday.

Update (2/9/2009): Dodd let reporters take a look of the documents, but fell short of being completely forthcoming.

Treasury's Redacted Contracts

Despite touting how transparent the bailout would be, the Treasury Department has kept plenty of the $700 billion taxpayer-funded plan opaque. Besides the obvious things about TARP most people might want to know (such as how banks are spending billions of our dollars) one curious omission has been Treasury's refusal to reveal how much the government is paying Bank of New York Mellon to be the bailout's "prime contractor" (i.e. the bank that holds and tracks the assets).

We're starting the clock from when the Washington Post first noted the redactions on Oct. 15, 2008. The Treasury said then it would reveal the contract's terms within what the Post described as "a matter of weeks." 

After five months, and much pestering, the Treasury Department finally released the entire contract it awarded the Bank of New York Mellon to keep the books for the $700 billion taxpayer-funded bailout plan.

President Obama's Promises

While some candidates on the presidential campaign trail treat paint promises in glittering generalities, President Obama was often quite specific about what policies he’d implement as president, with exhaustive lists of promised policy plans on his much-ballyhooed website.

We’re building our list off of the exhaustive work done by Politifact’s Obameter. (500-plus promises, and counting!) The five we’ve chosen to highlight are all doable by presidential order, meaning the new administration can’t hide behind the workings of Congress. We're starting each clock on January 20, 2009 at 12 noon, the date and time of Obama's inauguration.

Our top five:

End no-bid contracts above $25,000

End the “Stop-Loss” program of forcing troops to stay in service beyond their expected commitments

End the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy

Close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center

President Obama has issued an executive order to close Gitmo within a year. We will stop the clock once that move is completed.

Create a public “Contracts and Influence” database

What other Obama promises would you like us to start the clock on? Drop us a line. Please include a link detailing the promise. The ones we’re looking for a specific, substantive, and achievable. (Specific tax cut pledges would qualify. “Achieving world peace” wouldn’t.)

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