FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                            CONTACT:      

September 29, 2014                                            Mary Beth Hutchins, 202-400-2721

Coalition of Open Government Groups Confront President Obama

On Policy that Frustrates Transparency

25 Groups Ask President to Withdraw or Clarify Memorandum Instructing Agencies to Consult with White House on Document Releases

WASHINGTON – A coalition of 25 transparency groups and open government advocates sent a letter to President Obama today urging him to either “withdraw” or “provide guidance to agencies” on a 2009 White House Counsel memorandum that instructs all federal agencies to consult with White House attorneys on documents of interest to the Administration before releasing them.

Sent by then-White House Counsel Gregory Craig, the memorandum requires federal agencies to consult with the White House Counsel’s Office on any document request that may involve records implicating “White House equities.” An undefined term that allows the White House to affect agency decision-making over the release of documents, “White House equities” appears to refer to any interest the administration might have in agency records. “White House equities” consultation already delayed the release, and allowed for improper Executive branch review, of documents to numerous requesters, including members of the media, Congress, and the public.

Executive Director Dan Epstein of Cause of Action, a government oversight organization, which recently sued a dozen cabinet agencies for documents regarding “White House equities,” said:

Public promises of transparency are no excuse for secret memos that prevent it. Americans deserve a government that is fair and open and delaying the release of documents prevents the ability of a free press to educate the public. Our hope is that President Obama honors the laws in place designed to provide transparency, such as the Freedom of Information Act, and withdraws this 2009 memo.

Executive Director of Dr. Patrice McDermott said:

To put it simply, ‘White House equities’ is not a well-defined term. Not surprisingly, a policy based around protecting an ill-defined term can sow confusion among agency officials and the public, and make it very hard to know exactly the effect of the policy. In the interest of the unprecedented levels of openness in government committed to by the President, the White House needs to review this policy, and send agencies any additional guidance if needed.

The full list of signatories:

American Library Association

Brechner Center for Freedom of Information

Cause of Action

Center for Effective Government

Defending Dissent Foundation

Electronic Privacy Information Center – EPIC

Essential Information

Government Accountability Project – GAP

James Madison Project


National Security Archive

National Security Counselors

Northern California Association of Law Libraries

National Freedom of Information Center

PEN American Center

Project On Government Oversight – POGO

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility – PEER

Society of Professional Journalists

Special Libraries Association

The Sunlight Foundation

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse – TRAC

Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University

Washington Coalition for Open Government

Individual signatories (additional information for identification purposes only):

Mark Tapscott, Executive Editor, Washington Examiner

The letter can be found here.

About Cause of Action:

Cause of Action is a non-profit, nonpartisan government accountability organization that fights to protect economic opportunity when federal regulations, spending and cronyism threaten it. For more information, visit

About is a coalition of good- and limited- government groups, environmentalists, journalists, library and consumer groups, labor, and others united to make the federal government a more open place in order to ensure integrity and accountability in the operation of our governing institutions, foster confidence in representative government, and support our democratic principles. Our coalition transcends partisan lines and includes progressives, libertarians, and conservatives.

To schedule an interview with Cause of Action’s Executive Director Dan Epstein, contact Mary Beth Hutchins,