Last December, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act—a popular, bipartisan bill that would have protected public workers who exposed corruption, waste, and illegality—died a sudden and surprising death, not by vote, but by a legislative tactic called an anonymous hold. Basically, one senator killed that bill, and doesn't have to be publicly accountable to his constituents for doing so.
NPR's "On the Media", along with the Government Accountability Project, set out to identify the secret senator, by asking listeners to contact their senators and ask, "Were you the person responsible for killing the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act?" As of yesterday, the field has been narrowed down to three—Jon Kyl of Arizona, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, or James Risch of Idaho. One of these men refused to protect government whistleblowers, and doesn't want the people who voted for him to know that he did it, or why. If you're a resident of Arizona, Alabama, or Idaho, maybe you can help unravel the mystery.
We are asking constituents to call the remaining three Senators and ask them if they placed the hold and why they believe the public does not have a right to hold them accountable for something as basic as killing a bill.
Below are some suggested questions to ask those Senators. Regardless of how they answer, even if you are forwarded to an answering machine, let us know how they respond by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we will post their responses on the website in the table below. Together, we can can forcefully remind our elected officials how much transparency matters to the people they represent.
When calling the remaining Senators, use these questions as a way to guide the conversation:
• 1) Did you place the anonymous hold on the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act?
• 2) What is the Senator's policy regarding inquiries from constituents about his use of the anonymous hold?
• 3) When is the Senator's "hold" the public's business, about which the public has the right to know?
• 4) What determines when use of the "hold" is a "personal, private matter" that is not the public's business?
• 5) Why would the Senator be publicly supportive of the bill but work to defeat it in private?
• 6) All but three Senators have confirmed that they did NOT use the hold to kill S. 372, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. Assuming that the senator who placed the hold is eventually identified—as they frequently are—and it is your senator, is he prepared to deal with the fallout that comes from ignoring constituent questions?
On the Media: Blow The Whistle!
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.