To File or Not To File?


We here at Sunlight take Justice Brandeis’ quote to heart, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." The idea is to give the public a clear picture of what is going on with their government. We believe providing more information by expanding disclosure and transparency on Capitol Hill will cure much of what has been called the culture of corruption in Washington. At a minimum openness will help to keep the players, both members of Congress and their staff and the lobbyists, honest even if only out the fear of embarrassment.

That alone can be a powerful incentive…But likely not as viscerally poignant as the fear of legal sanctions. Evidenced by a post Friday on the Legal Times’ Influence blog titled "To File or Not to File?" that highlighted how lobbyists are reacting to the recently passed Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007:

When Congress passed lobbying and ethics reform legislation last year, several experts said the harsher criminal penalties in the new law could encourage some lawyers and lobbyists to avoid registering until they absolutely had to do so under the law.

But it appears that in some cases, it’s having the opposite effect, with some lobbyists bending over backward to be careful. Patrick Raher, director of Hogan & Hartson’s environmental group, filed a registration this week on behalf of The Clorox Company. Raher says the company has had meetings at the Environmental Protection Agency to comment on regulations that will govern the labeling of antimicrobial products, such as a hand disinfectant that Clorox manufactures for hospitals. A political appointee at EPA was included in the meetings, Raher says, so he registered – just in case – even though he viewed the meetings as relatively routine.

"It’s better to be safe than sorry," he says. "This law is so new and no one knows how it will be interpreted in the future and I don’t want to be the person who is involved in the interpretation."

The more information citizens have about their government and those attempting to influence its decisions the better.