Computer Glitch Prevents Searching for Individual Lobbyist Names

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In the Senate the lobbying data is maintained by the Senate Office of Public Records (SOPR) which currently enters the lobbyist disclosure reports filed on paper into a database. Did you know — I just learned this — that electronic disclosure has been required for lobbyist reports since 1995, but still hasn’t been fully implemented?! An apparent glitch in SOPR’s computer system is currently preventing the public from searching for individual lobbyists, as well as for issues that interests have reported lobbying on in 2007. How beyond ridiculous is this?

It’s absurd because whether the Democrats or the GOP control Congress, lobbyists often set the table. Industry lobbyists make sure that their clients’ interests are tended to, no matter who runs the Congress. The Center for Responsive Politics analyzed reports filed last month and found lobbyists spending has topped $1.24 billion in the first six months of this year. For perspective, lobbyists spend a record amount of $2.61 billion throughout 2006. CRP’s analysis found:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce continued to be the top spender, lobbying government officials to the tune of $21.2 million, or more than $115,000 a day. Other top spenders included General Electric, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, American Medical Association and AT&T. Overall, health sector interests spent the most money, moving ahead of the financial, insurance and real estate sector for the first time in years. Health interests spend more than $193 million between January and June; 53 percent of the money was spent by the prescription drug industry alone. But the single largest lobbying contract was between an investment firm, Blackstone Group, and Ogilvy Government Relations — $3.7 million (or about $20,000 a day). Private equity firms and hedge funds have ramped up their lobbying to persuade Congress not to raise taxes on their profits.

Why should we care? In April, the Center for Public Integrity released an analysis looking at the spending of the pharmaceutical industry from January 2005 to June 2006, finding that the industry and its trade groups spent a record $155 million lobbying the federal government and its agencies. Why the record spending? "During that time, the drug industry heavily — and successfully — lobbied against Congress’ revisiting a provision in the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 that barred the federal government from negotiating on drug prices," reports Pharmaceutical Online. "Also on the lobbying agenda were protection of lucrative drug patents and prevention of the importation of lower-priced Canadian drugs." In other words, the drug companies spent $155 million to protect their profits at the expense of the average American family’s pocket book and ultimately public health.

You can search CRP’s database in four ways: search by name for a company, lobbying firm or individual lobbyist; search for the total spending by a particular industry; search for the total spending by lobbyists on a specific issue; or view the amount spent to lobby a particular government agency.

And in the meantime, call the SOPR at 202-224-0758 and tell them to fix their computers.

Update: The Center for Responsive Politics just emailed to say that the gitch was fixed: 

Whether it was your blog post, our newsletter item or an act of God, SOPR has apparently fixed the glitch that was preventing the public from searching for lobbyists by name and viewing which issues interests reported lobbying on, according to our lobbying team. We’re in the process of downloading the data and it should be posted in our Lobbying Database within the next 24-48 hours.