NPR: Help us figure out which Senator killed Whistleblower Protection


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 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!

Image: Some rights reserved by stevendepolo



  1. Ya, sure; that will work. Just ask a Senator, and he’ll tell you the truth. Who thought up that concept? As far as any reasonable person will conclude, they’re ALL still suspects, in spite of what they respond.

  2. NPR goes into damage control? ahha. They are just another brick in the wall. Their entertainment shows are much more progressive than their news. I mean the department of homeland security was sponsoring some of their programs for gosh sakes. They use these dramas to keep us distracted.

    1. Bulltroll. You might not like the nature of NPR’s news, but that doesn’t mean you can throw up a false equivalency and slander the network by association. National Public Broadcasting is the last bastion of true journalism working in the U.S. today. Example, they spent days apologizing for their mistaken report of Sen. Gabrielle Giffords’ death, and explained how they had arrived at the erroneous conclusion. Name one of the commercial broadcasters who would do that? Example: I woke up this morning (6 a.m. EST) to hear that Wisconsin citizens had been shat upon by their state senators who killed union collective bargaining in a slimy midnight session. The commercial broadcast networks were reporting on Lindsey Lohan’s possible jail sentence, Charlie Sheen’s latest stupidity, Women’s Rights *in Europe*, the royal wedding, and diets.
      And NPR is the villain in your mind? Despicable.

  3. It’s a shame that when Republicans move against pluralist ideals and good governance practices and freedom of information.

    And it’s a shame that NPR keeps being the only news organization willing to risk the extreme partisan backlash that comes from the very reasonable idea of trying to identify which senator dislikes whistleblower protections. It’s a good, reasonable, question.

    From way over on the right, centrists will look like socialists, and Democrats look like Communists, and compromise will always taste of absolute defeat.

    That’s a heck of a blind spot you’re developing, America.

    1. I read somewhere that it was “a popular, bipartisan bill”. Can’t find the link, though…

      As for the anonymous/secret hold: there’s a bunch of stupid stuff that goes on in the Senate, but I find it hard to believe that the bill’s sponsors wouldn’t at least reintroduce it now that secret holds have been eliminated.

      Perhaps they’re busy with the budget battle(s) at the moment.

      1. No problem with the secret holds, some horrible excuse for a human being will just place a hold in the open since so few people in his or her deserted flyover state even know how the Senate works or what the fuck a hold is. Pretty much all they need to know is who has the (R) on the ballot every six years so they know which button to push.

      2. Thanks for that link, Rayonic. I hadn’t realized secret holds no longer existed.

        I guess this is still useful, though, to find out who the cowardly senator was. Can’t we introduce something that would require all historical secret holds ever made to come out into the open?

        Oh wait, no senator would vote for that. Er, Wikileaks?

      3. Thank you for your comment about reintroducing this legislation. I work with the Government Accountability Project, which has teamed up with On The Media on this campaign. We couldn’t agree more about the need to reintroduce and pass this bill. Fortunately, this campaign has allowed us to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

        As we contacted offices to confirm whether or not they placed the hold, several of them have firmed up their support for the legislation this Congress. Further, in identifying who placed the hold and what their reason was, we are less likely to experience delays from that same office this Congress.

        We are, however, working on duel tracks with the appropriate committees of jurisdiction to reintroduce this good government bill.

  4. I no longer live in Arizona, but Jon Kyl is all salt and vinegar. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whistle stopped there.

  5. As far as I’m concerned all 3 of them are just as guilty since they’re providing cover for the one who really did it.

  6. A bill killed by a weasel-ly, cowardly, underhanded move?

    Speaking as a resident of Alabama: if Jeff Sessions’ name is on the list of possible perpetrators, then he’s probably your man.

    1. Senator Sessions also singlehandedly killed The Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2010, which was supported by tens of thousands of American voters (myself included).
      If Sessions votes to support Child Sex Trafficking, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit that he would also kill Whistleblower Protection.

  7. As some one who works for a major corporation (I know) this really disturbs me. A lot of businesses want to ensure they don’t have problems and when people are afraid to admit there are problems that’s actually when they happen.

    Protection is integral to good practices, damn it! Honestly, even people in business know this, why the hell is it so hard for politicians to grasp?

    Oh… yeah, guess I answered myself.

    1. The only way this kind of stuff will change is if we all continue to press our elected representatives for the truth and hold their feet to the fire until we get it.

      Congress works for the taxpayer.

  8. I would surmise that all three are complicit in this arrangement. One of them stopped the bill and all three refuse to say “Not I” so there’s always reasonable doubt.

  9. How exactly was the hold placed? I read the articles linked, and I didn’t see any specifics. Was it just one guy saying “Kill that bill”?

    1. A senator can place a hold on legislation by contacting his or her party’s leadership, or a designated party, and stating that there is an objection to the bill. In this case, the Government Accountability Project (the organization that I work for and that has championed the bill) was informed by the Republican Cloakroom that there was an objection made to the bill. This effectively halted it from clearing the unanimous consent process (

    1. Secret holds have not been eliminated in their entirety, however, the amount of time that an anonymous hold can be placed has been reduced from 6 session days to two session days.

      See Senate Resolution 28, passed on January 27, 2011 ( Subsection (2)(a)asserts that after 2 days, a senator’s hold will be recorded in the congressional record.

      Unfortunately, this resolution would not have been applicable in the context of the the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, because the hold was placed hours before Congress adjourned.

  10. I have to agree with Hellblazer. I find it very likely that Sessions would kill a bill that would protect individuals from calling out corporations.

  11. If only a whistleblower from the offending senator’s office would step forward… oh wait. Dammit.

  12. Right now the onus is on us, the people to figure out which congressman killed the bill. Why don’t we move the burden to the congressmen by loudly and publicly calling for getting rid of ALL THREE of the potential sneaks. Let each of them do their best to prove it wasn’t them.

    1. I’m for this solution. I’m not really fond of any of them and wouldn’t miss the lot of them, to be honest. Let them do the work or just lose their jobs since public interest isn’t what they have at heart why should the public employ them?

  13. Wake me when they fire Cokie Roberts. The NPR newsroom has a lot to answer for and a piddling story like this is just “let’s copy the internet (specifically Talking Points Memo)” rather than doing real journalism.

  14. pshhh

    its a politicians right, no, divine duty, to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, regardless of what u smelly masses say. and u dare question this?

  15. So if a Senator can single handedly and anonymously put a hold on some act; then why doesn’t someone step up and anonymously put a hold on the gay marriage ban? DO they have to be lobbied to the point of being set for life first? I never knew that one person can change the law for the entire country.

  16. My name is Alex Goldman and I’m a producer for the radio show On the Media. We’re very excited to see this project appear on Boing Boing. We’ve been working with the Government Accountability Project on this for just over two months, and it’s only because of the hard work of our listeners and supporters of the project that the field has narrowed to the three remaining Senators.

    I just wanted to comment in response to Rayonic, who mentioned the bill was popular and bi-partisan. The bill had actually previously passed the senate unanimously on December 10, and then went to the house, who stripped a couple provisions from it and then they too passed it, unanimously. It was only when it returned to the Senate for reconciliation that a Senator, who ostensibly voted for it the first time it reached the Senate floor, placed a hold on it when it was returned to the Senate for reconciliation.

    Also, while the secret hold process has been significantly reformed, it has not been entirely eliminated, and the method the mystery Senator used to kill this bill (putting a hold on a bill in the last hours before the end of the legislative session) could theoretically be used again in the future.

    If you are interested in participating in the project, please let us know how the Senators you contact respond to your questions by emailing us at, and we will post their responses on the website.

    1. The bill had actually previously passed the senate unanimously on December 10, and then went to the house, who stripped a couple provisions from it and then they too passed it, unanimously. It was only when it returned to the Senate for reconciliation that a Senator, who ostensibly voted for it the first time it reached the Senate floor, placed a hold on it when it was returned to the Senate for reconciliation.

      Records say it passed via “Unanimous Consent”, which is where they skip the formalities and just ask if anyone objects. So possibly our mystery senator wasn’t there. I can’t find any attendance records though…

      Either that or he just wasn’t paying attention the first time around.

      1. To block a legislation from clearing the unanimous consent process, a senator must actively place a hold or objection on the bill.

  17. I am curious as to how it was “narrowed” down to only Republicans. Seems to me a Dem would have more of a problem coming out on this issue. What say you?

    1. Good question to raise. I work at the Government Accountability Project, which has championed this legislation. On the evening that the bill was set to pass, we received confirmation from the Republican cloakroom confirmed that the objection to the bill came from one of its members. The democratic cloakroom confirmed that the bill cleared with all of its members.

    2. It is also worth noting that through constituent queries, all of the current Senate Democrats and all but three of the Senate Republicans have confirmed that they did not place the hold. Please see the Blow The Whistle campaign site for details,

    3. I say you would need to justify your assertion through the application of evidence, or even just a plausible scenario, for me to begin take it as anything other than partisan FUD.

  18. Someone obviously has something to hide and is desperate to conceal what they’ve done. Alex, you’re a true patriot for doing this. Thank you!

    And Senator? Maybe you should just go ahead and step down now? You know who you are.

  19. I can’t stand whistle blowers. The only people worse are the people with too many glow sticks.

  20. Can we get 4chan or Anonymous on this, stat? There should be something akin to an internet Bat-signal, to summon the unknown hordes to do acts of unlawful good.

  21. I just wanted to drop in and post a link to an article from today written by Esquire Politics blogger Foster Kamer about the project. He took the liberty of calling the Senators in question himself, and got some interesting responses.

  22. What do we do if we find out it’s a Democrat Senator that shot this down?

    Do we just walk away whistling to ourselves, while muttering something under our breath about evil Republicans?

    Remember, it’s a Democrat President that’s pretty much continued or renewed the vast majority of the previous Republican Presidents most hated policies.

    1. What do we do if we find out it’s a Democrat Senator that shot this down?

      First we ask how the list of three finalists ended up being so wrong. Then we celebrate finally finding some common ground with the Republicans.

    2. Please excuse the repetition in my response, however, several comments have posed that valid question. The Government Accountability Project, where I work, received confirmation from the Republican Cloakroom on the night of the vote that the objection came from one of its members. The Democratic Cloakroom provided confirmation that the bill was cleared by all of its members. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with further questions this matter or process,

      1. Please excuse the repetition in my response, however, several comments have posed that valid question.

        Please don’t make the same response to multiple comments.

    3. Thank you for your query. To answer your question, the Republican cloakroom provided confirmation that the hold came from one of its members. The Senator opted to remain anonymous, however.

  23. So if the Dems wanted to pass the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act they could have changed the senate rules with a simple majority in 2010 (just like with the filibuster) but instead waited until 2011 to change the rule (with a nearly unanimous vote) and vote in the Act.

    Who was the secret senator? Who cares? The “anonymous hold” actually required the support of a majority of the senate (to not change the rules).

    And before the rules changed, while this “secret senator” absurdity was still in effect (after being re-instated 2007-2011), why didn’t a single democrat use it to block telecom immunity, block war supplements, block resolutions affirming our support for Israel, block the re-authorization of the Patriot Act, block tax cuts for the wealthy, TARP etc…?

    This is exactly like how we all heard that the democrats couldn’t filibuster the republican majority (2002-2006) because they might change the senate rules with a simple majority to end the filibuster (which didn’t even exist in the senate until 1854 and wasn’t used frequently until the 20th century, likewise, the House has no filibuster). But when the democrats had majorities in both Houses, suddenly the so-called “nuclear option” to abolish the filibuster vanished. I call shenanigans. Enough with the democrats creating their self-made “insurmountable” obstacles. Who falls for this?

    If the democrats cared about any of this they would make sure Bradley Manning is protected as a whistleblower (as I understand it the Act would not cover Manning). Right now, our democratic Commander-in-Chief is torturing Manning (if you don’t think it’s torture read what Glen Greenwald has written on this) and attempting to give him life imprisonment.

    What is Congress doing while an actual whistleblower is suffering? Funding his mistreatment.

    1. There’s a good point in there, but ultimately it doesn’t matter now. The time for doing anything about that has passed. This is something people can act on now.

      1. Yes, we should act now.

        Congress should pass whistleblower protections for people like Bradley Manning and prosecute those who have authorized his torture. That seems far more important than unmasking this irrelevant “secret senator” who received the cooperation of over half the senate over a year ago. The “anonymous hold” procedure has already been abolished and the (weak and disingenuous) Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act has already been passed.

        1. Not sure what to say since I agree with you. I don’t think that negates anything else that should be done though.

  24. Lots of great questions raised here! I also work with the Government Accountability Project, and see that Shanna has responded to many of the comments and clarified the secret hold process. If anyone wants to learn more about this, I would also suggest taking a look at our press release on the campaign: as well as the most recent episode of our TV show, which discusses exactly what happened with the whistleblower bill (how it was killed, the secret hold process, and the future of the legislation):

  25. When the GOP talks about personal accountability, they mean it very strictly. It’s not government responsibility, not corporate responsibility, it ‘s PERSONAL responsibility.

    Another sad day for America.

  26. And once all of the senators have denied being the culprit, does the bill pass without reintroduction?

    Government for the people by the people. Uhh…

    How did so many kids grow up rooting for Captain Hook, the Sheriff of Nottingham, supporting Darth Vader?
    I don’t get it.

  27. If you have 3 senators that refuse to comment, then you implicate all of them. There has to be some pain for the Senators that provide cover for their buddy responsible for the actual hold.

  28. I am curious as to how it was “narrowed” down to only Republicans. (anon @26)

    This issue has been thoroughly dealt with above-thread, but seriously, wasn’t it pretty obvious which party the senator in question belonged to? Dems aren’t saints, but Republicans do this screw-the-public shtick as a matter of policy.

  29. As an expert witness for whistleblower cases it is assumed that if you lie once you are always lying. It is also assumed that if you cover up something for someone else that you are guilty by association. It is my opinion that the Senators who know the person or persons who blocked the bill are all responsible for the hold. What is the next step in declaring that they are all guilty? What does it say about a group of grown men and woman who knowingly cover up the person who put the hold on the bill? There are more of us than them and they are our elected officials who are to carry out the will of the people. I do not know anyone who believes it is right to ignore and not protect those persons who report waste, fraud and abuse of power.

  30. Well I guess you’ve done it now, Antinous! Everyone’s taken their identical comment balls and gone home! While I’ve got you on the phone, I have a question which you can delete as it’s not relevant to this particular thread, but I’m think it might assist others who’ve come to the party late: Is there a method by which one can log in to comments and review responses without first finding the post and the multiple steps that entails? Feel free to answer my question off-air if you’d like.

    1. You can click on your name and look at the comments under your profile. It’s not particularly efficient, but better than trying to dredge up old posts.

  31. Ah. That’s what I’ve been doing. It’s insidious in its implementation. To view any responses or a continuing thread, first one must log in to comment. An original paper-version BB lover, I appreciate the atavistic nature of the process. Thanks for the reply!

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