White House Releases Visitors List; Help Us Look Through It

White House Releases Visitors List; Help Us Look Through It

In a Friday afternoon news dump, the Obama administration has released a list of nearly 500 visitors to the White House. Among the names: a host of prominent politicians who swung by to meet with the president and/or his aides.

There also are some few "false positives" -- people with famous names who are actually someone else. Many reporters, an administration aide relayed, frantically rang the White House after the name William Ayers popped up on the visitor logs, but it's not the same former Weather Underground member whose acquaintance with Obama briefly became a campaign issue.

The list also shows that a slew of prominent lobbyists have been granted an audience within the administration. The mega-lobbying duo Anthony and Heather Podesta, for instance, made several trips. And big-time Democratic financier George Soros swung by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on four occasions. Oprah Winfrey, meanwhile, made it twice.

This list is not exhaustive -- it is responsive to specific disclosure requests. It is also not recent, spanning from from January 20 to July 31, 2009.

The new data is below. A challenge to the readers: sort through it and tell us what, if anything, is interesting that you find.

Some of the biggest names in finance, including individuals with clear legislative interests before the executive branch, stopped by the White House during Obama's first nine months in office.

The list includes Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein -- who made three visits, and JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon -- who stopped by six times. These sessions were primarily to chart the government bailout of their respective institutions and other big banks.

Continuing on the lines of soliciting economic advice, Obama and his team were also visited six times by former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. The visits included sessions with top advisers Larry Summers and Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Below is the White House blog post announcing the release - which, it should be noted, is a major nod towards transparency.

Today marks a major milestone in government transparency -- and an important lesson in the unintended consequences of such vigorous disclosure.

We previously announced that the White House in December of this year would -- for the first time in history -- begin posting all White House visitor records under the terms of our new voluntary disclosure policy. As part of that initiative, we also offered to look back at the records created before the announcement of the policy and answer specific requests for visitor records created earlier in the year.

So far we've processed 110 disclosure requests from September that yielded nearly 500 visitor records. All of these are now available on the White House website in accessible, searchable format for anyone to browse or download. Consistent with our earlier announcement that we will only release records 90 days or older, this first batch covers the period of time between January 20, 2009 to July 31, 2009. Future batches will be posted on an ongoing basis. (You can submit a request here.)

This first release is only the latest in a series of unprecedented steps by the President to increase openness in government. They include putting up more government information than ever before on data.gov and recovery.gov, reforming the government's FOIA processes, providing on-line access to White House staff financial reports and salaries, adopting a tough new state secrets policy, reversing an executive order that previously limited access to presidential records, and web-casting White House meetings and conferences. The release also compliments our new lobbying rules, which in addition to closing the revolving door for lobbyists who work in government have also emphasized expanding disclosure of lobbyist contacts with the government.

There's an important lesson here as well. This unprecedented level of transparency can sometimes be confusing rather than providing clear information.

A lot of people visit the White House, up to 100,000 each month, with many of those folks coming to tour the buildings. Given this large amount of data, the records we are publishing today include a few "false positives" - names that make you think of a well-known person, but are actually someone else. In September, requests were submitted for the names of some famous or controversial figures (for example Michael Jordan, William Ayers, Michael Moore, Jeremiah Wright, Robert Kelly ("R. Kelly"), and Malik Shabazz). The well-known individuals with those names never actually came to the White House. Nevertheless, we were asked for those names and so we have included records for those individuals who were here and share the same names.

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