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SPJ: Wall Street Bailout Proposal Grants too Much Unchecked Authority to Executive Branch


For Immediate Release

Dave Cuillier, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Chair, (520) 626-9694, cuillier@email.arizona.edu
Scott Leadingham, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 211, sleadingham@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – As Congress prepares to pass a $700 billion aid package for troubled Wall Street financial firms, leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists are concerned that certain provisions of the proposed emergency legislation unduly expand the powers of the executive branch.

The legislative proposal, which would grant the authority for the federal government to purchase large amounts of mortgage-backed securities, gives the U.S. Treasury Secretary power to act drastically unchecked. In particular, SPJ is at odds with Section 8 of the bill, which would yield broad, unfettered and unchecked authority to the Treasury Secretary. The contentious section reads:

"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.”

“Secrecy is what got us in trouble in the first place, and now the administration wants to make the fix secret too?” said SPJ President Dave Aeikens. “Americans demand more accountability and transparency in their government, not less, especially when $700 billion of their own money is at stake.”

SPJ is not taking a stance on the validity of the aid package or the economic effects it intends to achieve. Rather, as an organization that advocates for Freedom of Information-related issues, SPJ opposes the idea that any government institution be granted such sweeping, unbalanced control.

“There needs to be public oversight of this money. It’s outrageous that they are considering keeping the details secret,” said Aeikens. “Given all that has happened, it is critical that the public be able to examine and scrutinize the use of this money like it should for all tax payer dollars.”

SPJ is not alone in questioning this aspect of the legislation. This past weekend, members of the SPJ Freedom of Information Committee attended a summit during which multiple organizations signed on to a letter warning against the broad powers granted in the proposal. The letter is being presented today to members of Congress by the National Taxpayers Union.

“We’re talking about a lot of money that could be further squandered by decisions completely hidden from the public,” said David Cuillier, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman. “Imagine winning $1 million in the lottery, and then imagine winning the lottery 700,000 more times. That's how much of our money is at stake here. That's well over $2,000 for each person in this country. Shouldn't we know what the government is going to do with it?”

Cuillier said journalists and citizens should question their senators and representatives on whether the administration should continue to be able to operate with minimal oversight.

“Section 8 of the proposal should be killed,” Cuillier said. “It's our money, it's our business.”

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.


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