Have you seen what's been going on for the past several months?

  • $168 billion in rebates for 2008 fiscal taxpayers.
  • $200 billion to bail out Fannie Mae (NYSE:FNM) and Freddie Mac (NYSE:FRE).
  • $122.8 billion to pull AIG's (NYSE:AIG) buns out of the fire.
  • $700 billion -- seven hundred -- in TARP money to salvage automakers General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Chrysler, to finance Bank of America's (NYSE:BAC) rescuing the financial sector, and to keep Citigroup (NYSE:C) on life support.
  • $825 billion in planned stimulus under the now-inaugurated Obama Administration.
  • These are just a few of the numbers that NBC crunched, and that Meet the Press anchor David Gregory grilled incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on over the weekend. Their sum adds up to the mind-boggling figure of $2 trillion in stimulus injected into our ailing economy, or as Gregory put it, $17,000 in new debt for every household in America.

So here's how I put it:

Madness
The numbers boggle my mind, and I truly cannot make sense of what is going on in Washington. The numbers are so large, the sums of money so vast, that I can only hope that someone knows what's going on, where the money is heading, and has a plan for how we, the taxpayers footing the bill for this mess, will ever be made whole on our involuntary "investment" in saving the world. Except here's the thing:

They don't
Even worse: They can't. For as we've recently learned, the people pushing the cash around our national craps table have no desire to tell us whom they're feeding the funds, what these lucky recipients are doing with them, and what collateral, if any, they're putting up to guarantee that we'll ever get our $17,000 back.

Starting back in November of last year, when the scale of this disaster and the efforts to fix it really began to hit home, the Fox Business Network -- youngest scion of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp (NYSE:NWS-A) -- tried to do us all a good deed. Filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Federal government, Fox demanded to know the answers to these questions: Who's getting how much loot? What are they giving us as collateral? What's the frequency, Kenneth?

And then there was silence
But the Feds are keeping mum. Didn't matter whom Fox asked -- the Treasury Department basically ignored the FOIA requests. Same for the Federal Reserve. Citing a vague need to keep their dealings with the banks "confidential," or to preserve the independence of interagency decision-making, both the Treasury and the Fed refused to cough up any information beyond the mere acknowledgement that documents such as the ones Fox wants to review exist, but we can't see 'em.

And then there were lawsuits
Fox was not amused. In December, the network sued the Treasury for failure to respond to its FOIA request. Last week, Fox hit the Fed as well, alleging similar obstreperousness. And being aware of the time it takes for a federal lawsuit to work its way through the courts, Fox is now busy filing requests for preliminary injunctions aimed at getting the Feds to answer now, rather than sometime in the middle of President Obama's second term of office.

Why should Fools care?
Aside from a morbid curiosity about just how bad things have gotten, you mean? Well, how about this: President Obama promised to usher in a new era of transparency in Washington, yet the agencies comprising his government seem dead set against telling We, the Taxpaying People, what they're doing with our money.

I also can't help but notice that what the agencies are doing, in failing to tell us what they are doing, appears blatantly illegal. While I'm not a media lawyer myself, the way I read the FOIA statute, it seems pretty darn clear to me that the Feds aren't playing by the rules Congress set up. And if you're in doubt, then grab your copy of 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552, et seq., and read along with me:

  • Clause (a)(3)(A): "...each agency, upon any request for records which (i) reasonably describes such records and (ii) is made in accordance with published rules ... shall make the records promptly available to any person."
  • Clause (a)(4)(B): "On complaint, the district court of the United States ... has jurisdiction to enjoin the agency from withholding agency records and to order the production of any agency records improperly withheld from the complainant."

So basically, the Feds must tell us what's going on. And if they don't do it promptly when asked, the courts have full right to enjoin (i.e. issue an injunction requiring) them to produce the information.

What now?
Once upon a time, Fools led the charge for greater disclosure in Washington. Thanks in part to that effort, the SEC implemented Regulation FD, forbidding closed-door meetings between company management and Wall Street analysts -- to the benefit of us all. We are still advocating transparency, and Fox also seems to be taking up the mantle of defending the little guy. I, for one, am cheering them on.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. Bank of America is a former Income Investor pick. The Motley Fool would have no objections if the Fed wished to take a look at our disclosure policy and learn a thing or two.