Sam Stein, writing in the Huffington Post today, reacts to Obama transition team chief John Podesta's announcement that the team will publicize the names and agenda items of the groups that are meeting with it,
This approach, to say the least, is a startling departure from the none-of-your-business attitude shrouding the process of "stakeholder" (read: special interest) policy advice and consultation in the Administration now ending and even the one before that.
But it's also a rejection of the risk-averse confidential consultation style given the California Supreme Court's blessing 17 years ago when a four-justice majorityall appointees of Governor George Deukmejiandecided that an effective "deliberative process" dictated that the public had no compelling reason to know who had met with Governor Deukmejian over the first five years of his incumbency. This decision ended a lawsuit brought by the Los Angeles Times seeking access to the governor's appointment calendars under the California Public Records Act.
Here's the court's view of the competing interests.
One could readily imagine additional public benefits accruing from disclosure of the Governor's private itinerary, as well. It could be argued, for example, that the prospect of publicity would expand rather than contract the number and variety of persons meeting with the Governor. Disclosure might also reveal whether the Governor was, in fact, receiving a broad range of opinions, and ultimately whether the state's highest elected officer was attending diligently to the public business.
Moreover, in response to the assertion that disclosure could chill the flow of information to the executive office, one might argue, as the Court of Appeal concluded, that the Governor's advisors should be made of "sterner stuff"; we need not assume that the Governor, or those otherwise inclined to confer with the Governor, would be deterred by the mere specter of publicity.
The answer to these arguments is not that they lack substance, but pragmatism. The deliberative process privilege is grounded in the unromantic reality of politics; it rests on the understanding that if the public and the Governor were entitled to precisely the same information, neither would likely receive it. Politics is an ecumenical affair; it embraces persons and groups of every conceivable interest: public and private; popular and unpopular; Republican and Democratic and every partisan stripe in between; left, right and center. To disclose every private meeting or association of the Governor and expect the decisionmaking process to function effectively, is to deny human nature and contrary to common sense and experience.
Times Mirror Co. v. Superior Court (State of California), 53 Cal.3d 1325, 1344 (1991) (Emphasis added)
Who's right: Barack Obama or the Deukmejian Four? The best test may be in whether this window on who wants what from the President is carried over into the Oval Office after January 20.