The Man Who Wants To Be President: How Barack Obama 'Lost' Eight Years Of Financial And Other Records
Barack Obama, who's been scolding Hillary Rodham Clinton for not hastening the release of records from her time as first lady, says he can't step up and produce his own records from his days in the Illinois state Senate. He says he hasn't got any.
"I don't have - I don't maintain - a file of eight years of work in the state Senate because I didn't have the resources available to maintain those kinds of records," he said at a recent campaign stop in Iowa. He said he wasn't sure where any cache of records might have gone, adding, "It could have been thrown out. I haven't been in the state Senate now for quite some time."
Obama's statement that he has no papers from his time in the Illinois statehouse - he left in 2004 - stands in stark contrast to the massive Clinton file stored at the National Archives: an estimated 78 million pages of documents, plus 20 million e-mail messages, packed into 36,000 boxes. While any file from Obama's time in the state Senate would be far smaller, the idea that no papers exist at all is questioned by one historian.
"Most of those guys do keep this stuff, especially the favorable stuff. They've all got egos," said Taylor Pensoneau, a historian who has written about Illinois legislators and governors and worked with them as a lobbyist for the coal industry. "It goes in scrapbooks or maybe boxes. I don't think it's normal practice to say it's all discarded."
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said Wednesday that "Obama has a track record of leading the way on reform and disclosure," adding that "correspondence with state agencies and records of requests Obama made to them on behalf of his constituents are available to the public and have been accessed by our opponents and members of the news media."
Pressed for details, LaBolt said Obama did not keep any correspondence with the general public. Ditto for letters to or from state associations and lobbyists, memos on legislation and correspondence with Illinois state agencies. The campaign said Illinois agencies have copies of his requests for information or help, but accessing those records would involve contacting the agencies and asking them to comb though eight years of records to find correspondence from Obama.
Meanwhile, the campaign of John Edwards - Clinton and Obama's leading rival for the Democratic nomination - said Wednesday it will release the records from his single term representing North Carolina in the U.S. Senate.
"Senator Edwards will release the records from his Senate office and is committed to getting this done as quickly as possible," said spokeswoman Colleen Murray. "He is currently in discussions with some North Carolina institutions to figure out where to best house the documents, and in the next few weeks we should have a better sense of when the release will begin."
Obama criticized Clinton during a debate in Philadelphia at the end of October, comparing her record on records to the Bush administration and saying the country had "just gone through one of the most secretive administrations in our history."
Clinton's papers from her time as first lady, including her work leading a controversial health care task force in her husband's first term, are held at the National Archives and Records Administration. The Clinton campaign has said that neither she nor husband Bill Clinton can do anything to speed the process of review at the National Archives that must precede the papers' becoming public.
Every president can, and usually does, exercise a right to withhold some documents for up to 12 years after leaving office. Bill Clinton wrote in a 2002 letter that he did not want the agency to release communications between the first lady and him for that period.
Obama hasn't always claimed there were no papers left from his time in the state Senate. Earlier this year, campaign spokesman LaBolt asked The Associated Press to narrow a request for records on whether Obama had ever urged clemency for a convicted criminal.
"You're asking us to do an extremely exhaustive search into every record we have from the U.S. Senate and state Senate offices," LaBolt said at the time. At the news conference in Iowa last week, Obama said he didn't "have a whole bunch of records from those years," but told reporters to "let us know" if there are "particular documents that you are interested in."
As for Edwards, the AP asked the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for records and papers from the Center on Poverty Work and Opportunity, the research center Edwards founded and ran after the 2004 campaign. The university acknowledged receiving the request, but would not comment on whether it would be granted.
Edwards left the poverty center last December, shortly before announcing his second bid for the White House. Campaign spokeswoman Murray said the campaign does not control the records, which belong to the university.
"As a public institution, the University of North Carolina has its own procedures, which we respect, and we hope they will release everything they can that is consistent with those policies," Murray said.