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FARAdb Allows Digital Digging into Details of Lobbying

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Imagine if you could get a list of all the meetings with members and staffers of the House and Senate initiated by lobbyists for the likes of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, CitiGroup, American International Group, Washington Mutual, Wachovia and other parties with, shall we say, something more than an academic interest in the $700 billion financial bailout that the Senate just approved? Suppose you could see, for each meeting, the subject discussed. Suppose you could also get a list of the dates and amounts of campaign contributions those lobbyists had made, the expenses they'd incurred on behalf of their clients, even lists of calls to reporters and columnists and editorial writers that they'd made to sway public opinion for their clients?

For those clients, of course, you can't -- the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 doesn't require that sort of detail. But for lobbyists representing foreign governments, political parties, organizations and individuals, there is a different disclosure regime -- and Sunlight's new FARAdb prototype let's you search and sort a sampling of these forms to get a sense of how lobbyists work the Hill.

The forms--required by the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) -- are filed twice a year by firms hired to lobby Congress and the executive branch by foreign clients. The lobbying firms disclose specific details about which government officials, including members of Congress and their staffs, were contacted by lobbyists for each client, and gives details about what specific issues were discussed. The firms must also disclose all the campaign donations made by their employees who lobby for foreign clients.

The database covers two years worth of forms -- January 2006 to December 2007 -- filed by lobbyists representing 15 countries; they've reported collecting more than $67 million in fees and expenses while pushing the agendas and bolstering the images of foreign governments and organizations in the United States.

The database allows users to search by clients, government officials contacted, lobbyists and issues, making it easy to navigate the data. Using the search function, users can quickly learn that, according to FARA reports, lobbyists for these countries contributed $97,000 to the campaign of Republican presidential nominee John McCain between the latter part of 2005 to the end of 2007. His Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, received $11,000 from lobbyists for these countries during the same period. For more details, and more digging into the disclosures, check the Real Time Investigations blog.