A Vision of Real Time Lobbying Disclosure


Mockups of Lobbying Disclosure Demonstrate Potential for Real Time, Online

When we talk about real time, online disclosure, as we did yesterday, it’s easy to miss just what this would mean.

The real, functional changes that come from new tools aren’t always obvious when we first encounter them. We have to use and adjust to new tools to realize how transformative they can be.

President Obama’s new lobbying policies come with an element of public disclosure that is transformative in ways we’re just starting to process. While most analysis has either praised generally or criticized specifics, we’d like to demonstrate just what real time lobbying disclosure actually looks like.

In that spirit, we worked with Sunlight Labs Designer Ali Felski to put together the following mockups of web based lobbying disclosure. We imagined a single site that would function for the entire executive branch, allowing agency employees to file daily reports on lobbying meetings (the first image), and allowing the public to examine and search through the disclosures (the second image). In our conception, a single destination functions across all agencies, creating a single access point for up-to-date influence information.

The Input Form

The input form is intended as a destination for agency employees to fulfill their reporting requirements, which we envision as a daily task: one form for each meeting where a lobbyist is present.

We have included all the identifying information one may expect, while still maintaining a simple form that isn’t overburdensome for agency employees. There’s a place for an LDA code, which we’re using as a simple identifying code for the topic of the meeting.

All of the information entered by agency employees would be submitted by lobbyists at the time of the meeting, and then entered into this simple web form either daily, or after the meeting occurs.

To get a sense of just what kind of view this reporting would enable, take a look at the next mockup.

The Search Page

Even a quick glance of this information should suggest the sort of window on influence we’re imagining. Imagine having this sort of information across the federal government right now — being able to track who is paying for lobbying, and what those discussions entail. One could quickly sort or browse all paid lobbying for individual clients or issue areas, and understand what agency actions are being influenced.

This would be valuable for the public, journalists, and even agency heads and employees, who are striving to evaluate decisions and understand what kinds of pressure they’re feeling. This is the sort of view that could elucidate influence, and help us make better decisions.

This is just the beginning. What else can you imagine tracking? Would you set up an RSS feed of all lobbying related to your interests? Would you, as an agency head, track all lobbying directed at your agency? Do you have some other mashup or view in mind, that we haven’t thought of? Let us know!

Online awareness is only starting to affect the way we see the world — adding new perspective and analysis that we didn’t have before. Like OpenSecrets.org or PoliticalPartyTime.org, technology has great promise to change the way we understand and interact with influence in government.