In the past week, Cindy McCain released two pages of her 2007 tax return, and Joe Biden let reporters review — but not copy — 49 pages of his medical records.
But those steps did not satisfy critics, reporters and opposition researchers, who pressed for McCain’s tax schedules and the previous years’ returns for her and her husband, Republican presidential candidate John McCain. And they demanded the results of follow-up exams given to Biden, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, after his 1988 aneurysms.
And those aren’t the only hotly sought but unreleased records that could shed light on the candidates — and the families of those candidates — who are seeking to run the country. With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, each presidential campaigns is accusing the other of withholding key documents that could answer outstanding questions about the personal and professional lives of the people at the top of the tickets, resulting in something of a transparency race subplot.
So, without further ado, here are 10 of the top missing documents from campaign 2008, in no particular order:
• Obama’s legal clients
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has boasted of his time working as a civil rights lawyer in Chicago. But the boutique law firm that employed him for parts of 11 years — now known as Miner, Barnhill & Galland — also handled matters that don’t fit under the civil rights umbrella, including contracts, real estate deals, incorporations and civil defense.
Obama, by some accounts, spent as much as 30 percent of his 3,700 billable hours on the last category.
Neither his campaign nor the firm will release a list of the cases on which he worked.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt asserted that “Sens. Obama and Biden have taken voluntary transparency steps as legislators and candidates that have allowed their constituents, the media and their political opponents to fully examine both men.”
LaBolt pointed to lists of hundreds of the firm’s clients that Obama attached to the mandatory personal financial disclosure statements he filed for each of his eight years in the Illinois state Senate.
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Included on the firm’s client list was Rezmar, a development company co-owned by Obama’s disgraced former fundraiser, Tony Rezko, as well as developer William Moorehead. Moorehead was convicted of stealing more than $1 million from public housing projects he managed and developments he co-owned with Obama’s former boss, Allison S. Davis. Some of the thefts occurred while Moorehead was a client of the firm.
Obama billed between five and seven hours to Rezmar-linked projects, including incorporating nonprofits connected to the company, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Obama’s campaign declined to answer when Politico asked if he did any work for Moorehead.
• Palin’s e-mails
The electronic correspondence of Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is in high demand, not the least because she used a private e-mail account to conduct state business in what some critics claim was an effort to circumvent the state’s public record laws.
Her husband, Todd, often was copied on e-mails about state business, and a state investigation found that she allowed her husband to use state resources to try to settle a family dispute, further fueling demands that she release her electronic mail.
E-mails from her state account are subject to the state’s public records laws — and a court ruling this month seemed to indicate e-mails from private accounts also could be subject to the laws. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to be easy, or inexpensive, to get.
The state of Alaska is seeking to extend a deadline for producing the e-mails until Nov. 17 — nearly two weeks after the election — asserting that it is a laborious process to identify all of the relevant emails and have lawyers determine which parts can be released.
And since the state is refusing to wave its fees — including 10 cents for each printed page of e-mails, plus $960.31 for searching each state employee’s account — the cost to each person requesting the documents could run into the thousands of dollars.
• Biden’s earmark requests
The McCain campaign has worked to make earmarks a major issue in the race, with McCain and Palin blasting Biden and Obama as free-spending earmarkers.
The two have pounced on Obama’s earmark requests, which he voluntarily released going back to his first year in the Senate and which totaled $931 million.
Palin has had to explain her own earmark requests, which totaled $750 million during her two years as governor of Alaska.
And, though McCain has boasted of never requesting “a single earmark,” he nonetheless has taken heat for seeking cash for home-state projects, albeit through more transparent legislative avenues.
That leaves Biden, a Delaware senator, as the only candidate in the quartet for whom there is no public record of earmark requests prior to fiscal year 2009.
Biden voluntarily released his earmark wish list for that year, and it comprises 116 projects with a total price tag of $342 million, including $34 million for the University of Delaware, which since 2002 has paid at least $1.5 million to a lobbying firm in which Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, is a partner. The Obama campaign has said that Hunter Biden, who stopped his lobbying work last month, never lobbied his father.
• John and Cindy McCain’s taxes
After John McCain couldn’t immediately recall in an interview how many houses he and Cindy owned, the couple’s finances become an issue in the race, with Obama hammering McCain for being out of touch with regular folks’ economic concerns.
But beyond property records (which showed that Cindy McCain owns eight homes) and mandatory disclosure statements filed by John McCain (which showed that he owns relatively little, while Cindy and her children hold assets worth at least $24 million), McCain has been comparatively unforthcoming about his wealth.
McCain, who maintains separate finances from his wife, released his full tax returns for 2006 and 2007, while Cindy McCain, heiress to a beer distributorship fortune worth as much as $100 million, only released the first two pages of her returns for those years.
Biden and Palin also have released only two years worth of their tax returns, but their finances are substantially less robust than the McCain’s. In the years since it’s become de rigueur for presidential candidates to release their tax returns, only Ronald Reagan in 1980 disclosed less tax information than McCain.
Obama, by contrast, has released his returns dating back to 2000.
• Obama’s state Senate records and schedules
Obama’s Senate files became an issue after he pressed Hillary Rodham Clinton during their nomination battle to release the schedules from her eight years as first lady.
When her campaign demanded Obama release his state Senate files, he told reporters he did not “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.” The records “could have been thrown out. I haven't been in the state Senate now for quite some time," he said.
His campaign later said that "files pertinent to ongoing casework” were passed to his successor, but Obama didn’t save correspondence with the general public, state associations or lobbyists, or memos on legislation and correspondence with Illinois state agencies. Some of the records that have surfaced have done little to dampen the demand for a more complete accounting.
For instance, Obama signed a pair of 1998 letters on his state Senate stationery urging state and Chicago officials to provide taxpayer support for a housing project headed by Davis, Obama’s former law firm boss, and Rezko, who has since been convicted on federal corruption charges.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the pair reaped $855,000 in development fees from the $14.6 million project, which was entirely funded by city, state and federal tax dollars and was four blocks beyond the border of Obama's Senate district.
• Palin’s college transcripts
Palin attended five schools in three states before graduating from the University of Idaho in 1987 with an undergraduate degree in journalism.
A high school friend who attended three of those schools with Palin told the Los Angeles Times that the future governor got straight A's, but a Palin spokeswoman declined to comment when asked by Politico if Palin would release her transcripts. The Times also reported that none of the 12 former Palin professors the newspaper interviewed remembered her.
• Obama’s Columbia thesis
Likewise, there’s not a whole lot of information available about Obama’s time at Columbia University in New York, which he attended for three years after attending Occidental College in Los Angeles for one year, and from which he graduated in 1983.
His campaign would not release his transcripts, and it says it does not have a copy of his thesis, which dealt with Soviet nuclear disarmament and which has drawn intense interest.
• All four candidates’ medical records
Biden, who had two brain surgeries in 1988 to repair separate aneurysms, is not the only candidate to be less-than-completely open when it comes to medical files.
McCain — who is 72 years old, has battled skin cancer and was tortured during five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam — put his personal physician on a conference call with reporters to attest to his good health and granted selected journalists three hours to leaf through nearly 1,200 pages of records covering eight years. But the reporters were not allowed to photocopy or remove the documents, and they were prohibited from using cell phones or e-mail for expert assistance during the review.
McCain’s steps didn’t satisfy critics, including a group of nearly 3,000 doctors who demanded a "full, public release" of the candidate’s records.
By comparison, Obama, who continues struggling to quit smoking and has a family history of cancer, has released only a one-page letter from his doctor proclaiming him in "excellent health," as well as "lean and muscular with no excess body fat."
Palin’s spokeswomen declined to comment about whether she would release her medical files before Election Day.
• Obama’s small donors
Obama boasted that half of the record-breaking $605 million his campaign raised through the end of September came from small donors.
But this summer, when a coalition of eight good-government groups asked both presidential candidates to voluntarily release information on small contributors, only McCain complied, posting a list of all his donors on his website. (Federal election rules only require campaigns to report the names, addresses and occupations of donors when they have given more than $200.)
Obama’s small donors recently created headaches for his campaign, with news reports highlighting letters from the Federal Election Commission directing Obama to return contributions from people who exceeded the $4,600 individual limit by giving donations in under-$200 installments. Some were from previously undisclosed and apparently fictitious donors.
Obama said he returned the excess contributions; the FEC also asked McCain to return donations that exceeded the $4,600 individual limit.
• McCain flight records
McCain’s presidential campaign used a legal loophole to hopscotch the country in a jet owned by a Cindy McCain-controlled company, King Aviation, for cut-rate fares, according to The New York Times.
The paper reported that during a key five-month stretch when McCain was struggling to raise cash and gain traction in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination, the jet, a Cessna Citation Excel, was used almost exclusively for campaign purposes. The campaign reimbursed the company substantially less than it would have cost to charter a similar jet, the report said.
McCain’s campaign continued paying King for use of the plane through the end of last month. FEC records show McCain’s payments to the company total $477,000 since the summer of 2007.
But the campaign declined to release records detailing how much it paid for specific flights, which could permit calculations about whether the campaign was paying full charter rates.
From the beginning of 2007 through May 2008, King earned $303,000 for Cindy McCain and her dependent children, according to McCain’s presidential disclosure form.