DATE: January 16, 2004


Delivered at 9:00 am, January 16, 2004


I'm here this morning to talk about the importance of open and honest government - and about how the persistent pattern of secrecy in the Bush White House undermines it.

For three years, George W. Bush has stonewalled America. For three years, he's put the special interests above the national interests. He's sealed records, cut short investigations, invoked executive privilege, and shut the American people out of the government - creating one of the most secretive presidencies in our nation's history.

The record speaks for itself.

Just weeks after his Inauguration, President Bush appointed Vice President Cheney to direct a secret task force to discuss changes to America's energy policies.

But when ordered by Congress and government oversight committees, the President refused to release the minutes from the meetings or the names of the attendees.

The White House has since spent untold amounts of taxpayer dollars in federal court defending their secrecy.

This was just the beginning. In November 2001, President Bush signed an Executive Order making it harder to obtain information under the Freedom of Information Act - a thirty year-old law that protects the public's right to know.

Now, let's be clear. What he was trying to hide are not classified military records. They are not top secret national security documents. They are reports and memoranda on topics ranging from public health to environmental hazards.

That same month, to keep former President Bush's papers sealed, President Bush reversed the long-held practice of opening records of former presidents twelve years after the end of their term. And President Bush has extended the length of time that all classified documents are withheld from the American public.

Most recently, President Bush has refused to turn over all relevant White House, State Department, CIA, and National Security Council records to the September 11th Investigative Commission - keeping the Commission and the American people from getting to the truth about what happened that day.

Yet, within 24 hours after former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill criticized the President's leadership, the Bush Administration was calling for an investigation.

The bottom line: if you're not of the special interests or for the special interests, don't bother ringing the doorbell at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue - because no one's going to answer the door.

Mr. Bush, it's time you let America in, because the White House doesn't belong to you - it belongs to the American people.

That's why today, I'm announcing steps to reverse Mr. Bush's secrecy policies and my standards to create the most open and honest government in American history.

My openness doctrine follows the wisdom of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who wisely declared that "sunlight is the best disinfectant."

First and foremost, I will reverse the elaborate web of closed-door governing that President Bush has spent three years spinning. On day one of my Administration, I'll sign an Executive Order reversing George Bush's FOIA rollbacks, and restoring the public's right to know.

I will also release the records of Vice President Cheney's Task Force, reverse President Bush's interpretation of the Presidential Records Act, and replace his rules classifying documents with new ones that balance national security and the public's right to know.

And I will immediately extend the life of the September 11th Investigative Commission until its work is finished, and sign a new presidential memorandum directing the White House and intelligence agencies to fully cooperate with the Commission.

Second, I will establish a strict openness doctrine that will apply to every person at every level of a Clark Administration. Because no one, and no special interest, is above the best interests of the American people.

As part of my plan, I will create an independent panel of nonpartisan and highly distinguished experts to review all proposed assertions of Executive Privilege. If the Bush White House has taught us anything, it's that Executive Privilege is too often used as a tool to withhold documents from the public and Congress.

I will also put an end to secret meetings with special interests. My White House will disclose all meetings that corporate representatives have with public officials to discuss policy or help prepare regulations. I will also post key public documents on the Internet - and keep them posted permanently -- unlike the Bush Administration, which has repeatedly removed and rewritten postings when politically expedient.

And, as part of my openness policy, I will establish a National Declassification Center to centralize and streamline the declassification process across the Government.

Unlike our current President, I will also hold at least one press conference a month and regular town hall meetings - because the American people have a right to hold their president accountable for his actions.

Finally, I will require all federal lobbyists to file disclosure forms every month, instead of just twice a year, as they currently do. It's time we cleaned up our government, and that starts with the special interests.

To put it simply, presidents are public servants - they shouldn't be in government to serve themselves or narrow special interests. They should be open, honest, and up front with the public about everything possible - and especially about themselves. Because, when it comes down to it, true leaders shouldn't have anything to hide from the people who elect them.

As candidates, I think it's crucial that we practice what we preach. As Democrats, we need to set an example for George W. Bush, and show him what an open and honest government is really all about.

That's why, I'm proud to announce that tomorrow, I will formally open the "Clark Reading Room" right here in Manchester and next week online at The room will be open to any member of the public who wishes to review my personal and professional files, including the following documents:

I challenge all the Democrats in this race to follow suit, and release their public and financial papers as soon as possible. We need to show the country that there are clear differences between Democrats and Republicans. And this is one of them.

We're the party of accessibility and accountability. They're the party of secrecy and special interests. This is just another way to draw the line between us.

George W. Bush has created a government of the special interests, for the special interests, and by the special interests. I'm going to create a government for the people, of the people, and by the people - and show the American people what a higher standard of leadership is all about.

I'm running for president to bring that higher standard back to Washington and to give the American government back to the American people.

Thank you, and I'll be glad to take your questions.


Clark for President, Inc., 1400 Markham St., 4th Fl., Little Rock, AR 72201, 501-537-2004