Ethics Watchdog Seeks Records on White House Officials, Failed Olympics Bid
November 12, 2009 - 6:07 PMA conservative government watchdog group filed a lawsuit seeking records on the White House's bid to hold the Olympic Games in Chicago.
The ethics watchdog Judicial Watch announced Thursday that it had filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s office. The city failed to provide the information requested under the Chicago Freedom of Information law, according to Judicial Watch.
The organization wants records on correspondence – notes, memoranda, reports – between the mayor’s office and the White House. It is particularly interested in discovering why White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett received an ethics waiver to work on the effort to bring the Olympics to Chicago. The waiver was granted on April 2.
Jarrett, a long-time political ally of President Barack Obama, had previously worked for Daley and was the vice-chair of the “Chicago 2016,” the non-profit entity responsible for the Chicago Olympic bid, before joining the White House staff early this year.
In October, Obama flew to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he made a pitch to the Olympic committee to hold the 2016 games in his hometown. Chicago lost in the first round of voting. The ultimate winner was Rio de Janeiro.
While many commentators viewed the president’s failure to get the Olympics as a political problem, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton saw something else.
“The Obama White House’s failed Olympics bid is a scandal,” Fitton said in a Nov. 12 statement. “Why else would Obama’s ‘Olympic czar’ Valerie Jarrett need an ‘ethics waiver’ to lead the campaign to bring the Olympics to Chicago?”
The White House explained its reasons for the ethics waiver in a May 1 blog posting.
“Although Chicago 2016 was not her ‘former employer’ in traditional terms, the term ‘former employer’ in the President’s order encompasses entities that appointees served as directors or officers, as Valerie did here,” the White House blog-post said. “To be clear, Valerie was not a lobbyist for Chicago 2016, and this waiver has nothing to do with lobbying.
“Valerie’s past experience with Chicago 2016 makes her ideal to work with the city and its bid committee to help win the Olympics for the U.S., with the many benefits that would bestow,” the White House blog-post said.
“In her time working with the City of Chicago on its bid, she developed knowledge about the process that will make her a powerful advocate and liaison. Although Valerie previously volunteered with Chicago 2016, she has no continuing financial relationship with them,” it added.
“Since the Administration already plans on vigorously supporting the United States’ sole 2016 Olympic bid, we felt that letting Valerie lead our efforts was strongly in the public interest,” the blog-post said.
Judicial Watch filed its records request on Sept. 5, and the mayor’s office acknowledged its receipt on Oct. 1 and granted itself an additional seven days for processing. However, the mayor’s office failed to abide by the deadline, according to Judicial Watch.
Jennifer Hoyle, spokeswoman for the city of Chicago’s law department, said the Judicial Watch request was too broad.
“We are willing to work with them to provide any responsive non-exempt records to meet their request,” Hoyle told CNSNews.com. “I don’t think records were exempt. I believe the issue is that their request wasn’t narrow enough. That said, there may be some exempt records in what they requested. But the initial request wasn’t narrow enough. So we would be willing to work with them to narrow their request.”
Fitton insisted the city is not following its open records laws.
“Mayor Daley’s illegal refusal to release documents about the Olympics bid is a rather transparent effort to protect President Obama and other key White House officials,” Fitton said.