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In February, the Electronic Frontier Foundation joined four other nonprofit groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, in complaining that the Homeland Security Department and other agencies were demanding thousands of dollars in fees to process FOIA requests, when fees for the groups had been waived in the past.

The White House has stood by its open-government initiative. It issued a report last fall citing a 10 percent reduction in FOIA exemptions claimed and boasting that a backlog of requests at the Army were down 68 percent. But many open-government groups say the report conflicts with their experience.

Meredith McGehee, the policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, said all administrations have to cut ugly deals only to see the details eventually become public.

Where the president has really failed to live up to promises and expectations, she said, is on championing efforts to strengthen lobbying disclosure rules and overhauling the nation’s campaign finance system.

In the Illinois Senate, Mr. Obama worked to pass changes to campaign finance law, and as a U.S. senator, he co-authored the stricter ethics and lobbying laws passed in response to the Jack Abramoff scandal. He refused to take contributions from registered lobbyists and political action committees and wrote legislation to create a congressional public financing system.

But after winning the Democratic presidential primary in 2008, Mr. Obama announced that he would be the first candidate to refuse to take public funds for the general election, going back on a promise to partake in the system.

At the time, Mr. Obama was shattering campaign fundraising records, and the decision freed him up to amass far more money than he could have if he opted to take public money.

“When it comes to spending one ounce of political capital to change the [money in politics] system, they’re wallowing close to a D or D-minus,” she said. “I expect the president had his folks whispering in his ear, ‘You’re going to have to run again, you’re going to have to raise $1 billion because the other side is gong to. Don’t let high-minded principles get in the way of reality.’”

The Obama administration also has aggressively gone after whistleblowers and alleged leakers, prosecuting them in unprecedented numbers in an effort some journalists believe is aimed at quashing national security stories.

In one instance, the Justice Department is trying to force a New York Times reporter to identify a confidential source who allegedly leaked him information about a botched plot against the Iranian government saying he has no legal right to keep his source’s identity secret.