Colorado Democratic Congressman (and candidate for the open U.S. Senate seat) Mark Udall is a happy, happy man this week. And, oddly enough, it’s all due to the Colorado State University archives. Yesterday, the Denver Post published a story about his presumptive opponent, Republican Bob Schaffer (pictured below right), based on research in the CSU archives. Schaffer, a former 4th district Congressman, placed the papers documenting his 1997-2002 career in the U.S. House of Representatives in the CSU archives. To his credit, Schaffer donated his papers without any restrictions–an admirable gesture upholding the values of transparency and open access that historians and archivists revere. (I’m not otherwise a fan of Schaffer, but I wish more public servants shared these values. I respect tremendously his decision to open his records, although I’m sure this week he’s regretting it.)
Unfortunately for Schaffer, the story was unflattering, to say the least, as it documented a 1999 trip he took to the Mariana Islands courtesy of disgraced former lobbyist and felon Jack Abramoff. The Post article says that the Congressman and his wife Maureen stayed “for free at a palm-studded beach resort and, besides factories, also toured historical sites and met with clients of Preston-Gates, Abramoff’s firm, according to a copy of the trip’s agenda archived in Schaffer’s congressional papers.” (Who says working in an archives is boring now, eh?)
Items manufactured in the Mariana Islands can display a “made in the U.S.A.” label, although they are exempt from U.S. minimum wage laws and most immigration laws, and have been repeatedly found by the Department of Labor and the Department of the Interior to be in violation of workers’ rights and human rights: aside from the sweatshop-style garment factories on the island and the slum-like dormitories for workers, U.S. government agencies also have proof of women being forced into sex work, and pregnant laborers being forced to have abortions. Later in the day yesterday, the Denver Post published his campaign’s denial that he ever met with Abramoff, knew him, or spoke with him about anything, and today’s paper has a report that Schaffer endorsed a key Abramoff ally for governor of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Much of the research for the article, as well as the photos that illustrate it, was done at the CSU archives. (Click here for a guide to the Schaffer papers.) Historiann’s source deep, deep inside the archives says that many people, especially journalists, have been all over his papers in the past few months, no doubt because of his current run for office. The source writes, “I know a permission to publish was granted. . . the day before [the article was published] and a rush order to scan the photos went through.” The source also says that the AP has contacted the archive for permission to publish the photos, too. Let’s hope that this doesn’t discourage public officials from donating their papers to archives without restrictions–but unfortunately I’m pretty sure that every politician in Colorado is making a note never to do allow such open access. I’m also pretty sure every other politician in Colorado–and perhaps around the country–thinks that Schaffer is a sucker for doing just that.
UPDATE, 4/12/08: Fiction in the archives? From the Denver Post again: Schaffer spent Friday huggin’ and kissin’ Vice President Dick Cheney, who visited Colorado to raise money for him. Schaffer said, “I am really disgusted with the tone and tenor and direction of The Denver Post stories. I have had no contact with the individuals in the story, particularly Jack Abramoff,” Schaffer said. “It’s a matter of fiction. That’s all I’m going to say about it.” Best of luck with that!