Professor Sidney Shapiro tells Politico President Obama is violating spirit of law with Jobs Council

President Barack Obama’s failure to meet with his Jobs Council for more than six months sparked election-season attacks from Republicans — but the panel’s recent closed-door activities have angered transparency advocates and may run afoul of a federal open meeting law.
The Jobs Council holds monthly conference calls that allow members to talk to senior administration officials. Participants have touted the sessions as evidence the panel is hard at work behind the scenes. But the White House is headed in the opposite direction, minimizing the significance of the calls in order to show they’re legal.

Obama aides offer a nuanced defense: The calls are proper because the committee doesn’t do anything official on them — such as make decisions or chart a path to cut high unemployment — so they don’t count as meetings that would need to be public under federal law.

Experts have a different view: The calls are merely meetings by a different name. They also say the rules apply whether everyone’s in the same room or joined only by a telephone line. A Watergate-era law requires that outside panels advising the federal government generally meet in public.

“I would say it at least violated the spirit of the law and may well violate the law itself,” said Sidney Shapiro, a law professor at Wake Forest University. “The reason [the council] was created was to bring transparency and accountability to when the government consults outsiders. It’s somewhat ironic that the president, who did at one time emphasize transparency of his administration, is now trying to avoid” the law, Shapiro added.

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