What We Did This Week


As regular readers know, Sunlight's been lobbying in the House and Senate for its Modest Proposals in the context of the larger package of ethics reforms that the Senate's been considering this week. You win some, you lose some, and we learned a lot in the process.

Sen. Cardin filed an amendment to require contemporaneous online filing of FEC reports, personal financial disclosure reports and travel reports, our top priority. This week, we worked closely with him and with Sen. Reid's office to have some version of the amendment accepted as part of the managers' amendment. We knew early on that the FEC reports were a long shot (outrageously so) as Sen. McConnell had made it clear that anything related to campaign finance would be kept out of the bill. (Go figure. Anything having to do with reforming the campaign finance system doesn't haven anything to do with ethics reform?)

In the meantime, Sen. Coleman offered an amendment to put travel reports online. We heard that this was accepted by the managers. We are confirming those details now. Update: The amendment was approved. (It looks like the full bill has been posted on GovTrac and Thomas. You can judge which site is easier to use.)

Contemporaneous online filing of personal financial disclosure was the remaining outstanding provision in the Cardin amendment. The Senate Office of Public Records told Sen. Cardin that it would be impossible to put the reports online in 48 hours, as they receive approximately 15,000 pages of reports and certain information is required to be stricken before the reports can be made public. In addition, there was significant pushback from Sen. Feinstein's office, who was concerned that such information online might lead to identity theft or other crimes. It doesn't appear that Sen. Cardin was successful in getting personal financial disclosure reports on line. Even if though that effort failed, Sen. Reid's staff appeared to be open to the idea, so there may be a chance to revisit the issue when the bill goes to conference.

On our second short-term issue — earmark reform — we are very pleased that the leadership hammered out an earmark provision that is stronger than either the original amendment offered by Sen. DeMint or the House earmark language. Among other things, the compromise language offered by Sen. Durbin provides that earmarks be posted online for at least 48 hours before a vote. The House language provides only that earmarks be listed in the Congressional Record before a vote. Both of these are rules changes so they need not be reconciled in Conference. Nevertheless, we will explore whether there is an opportunity to strengthen the House Rule to match the Senate.

And more progress was made on getting bills, amendments and conference reports on line with a new provision that states that a conference report will be out of order unless is made available to the public on the internet for at least 48 hours before consideration. (This can be waived by a vote of 3/5 of the Members.) It also provides that within 60 days of enactment, the Secretary of Senate shall develop a website capable of complying with these requirements. Sunlight will focus on the House in an effort to strengthen this provision for that body. And finally all committee transscripts have to be made available online within 14 days.

And on our third core reform proposal — expanding lobbyist reporting — although there are new disclosure and reporting requirements for lobbyists, significant changes with regard to transparency of lobbyists' activities were not included in the Senate bill. With the House preparing to take up ethics legislation in February or March, we'll begin working on some precise language on ways to improve lobbyist disclosure.

Paul has a post noting some of the most significant reforms that were adaopted.