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Transparency Rising

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The idea of far greater transparency in government affairs is spreading fast. How can you tell? Today's Washington Times carries an op-ed by one of Washington's top lawyers, Lanny Davis, that includes both a full-throated defense of the lobbying profession and an endorsement for "total transparency."

Here's a simple proposal:

Every lobbyist visiting a member of Congress or the executive branch to influence official action (the definition of lobbying) should first be required to sign in on an online, real-time computer (and thus, immediately accessible to all).

Information to be disclosed before the meeting should include the lobbyist's name, the client represented, the amount paid by month or year for lobbying, the specific purpose of the meeting, the position to be taken by the lobbyist, the legislation to be discussed, the action to be requested (the "ask" or "asks," to be updated after meeting), and the amount of current and prior campaign donations made by the client, the lobbyist and relatives associated with both.

Every time, every meeting. It's as simple as that.

One of the biggest failures in lobbying transparency is the absence of any disclosure of actual meetings. The current state of transparency for lobbyists is poor. Lobbyists only have to file quarterly reports that do not detail with whom they are meeting, what they are meeting about, and what their client is seeking. Lobbyists are also only required to file semiannual reports detailing their contributions to lawmakers. All of this amounts to a less-than-satisfactory system of disclosure providing the public with an incredibly limited view into the workings of their government.

It's heartening to see that some who travel in the highest circles of Washington lawyers and lobbyists, like Lanny Davis, are backing a more robust version of transparency. For another take on real lobbyist disclosure see Sunlight's Transparency in Government Act.