In Bootleggers & Baptists: How Economic Forces and Moral Persuasion Interact to Shape Regulatory Politics, economists Bruce Yandle and Adam Smith explain how money and morality are often combined in politics to produce arbitrary regulations benefiting cronies, while constraining productive economic activities by the general public.
President Obama went to Puerto Rico two weeks ago. If you missed it, that might be because the trip was so brief—a mere four hours. Observing how the president “SEAL-Team-Sixed” it, Jon Stewart speculated that the president was not motivated by love of the island or a campaign promise to revisit it, but by courting Puerto Rican voters in important electoral states. It could be all of the above, of course.
It all reminded me of the president’s “Sunlight Before Signing” promise to post bills Congress sends him online for five days before signing them.
After the president’s dismal start with the promise at the beginning of his term, I speculated once or twice that he would focus on fulfilling campaign promises like Sunlight Before Signing after the mid-term election, when focus turned back to the presidential election coming up in 2012.
Well, the mid-term is behind us, and thoughts are turning to the next presidential election. Has that renewed the White House’s focus on Sunlight Before Signing?
Of the twenty bills sent him by the 112th Congress so far, President Obama has posted only eight online for five days—under half. In fact, the poor numbers so far this year drive his overall tally down to exactly 50 percent compliance (counting in his favor the emergency bill that didn’t require posting). Fifty percent is a threshold he topped with some good Sunlight Before Signing compliance in December.
Number of Bills
Bills Posted Five Days
As I’ve explored before, the bills that get sunlight lean toward the unimportant—post office renamings, Smithsonian appointments, and such—though a few substantive bills have gotten five days of exposure.
One can only speculate about the thinking in the White House, but there are two likely possibilities:
It may not have crossed anyone’s mind that this clearly stated, measurable promise will have a bearing on the election. But the president’s low compliance with a transparency promise may hand his Republican challenger an issue.
If it has come up, the president and his political advisers may have determined that Sunlight Before Signing is not a big enough issue compared to other political priorities. Getting legislation signed and off the table comes first. Sunlight Before Signing goes under the bus.
We’ll continue to follow the Sunlight Before Signing promise here, calling it the way we see it. It’s up to the president’s challengers and America to decide if this transparency promise is important, or if it’s roadkill.