Should We Increase Lobbying Disclosure Requirements for Bailout Firms?

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When bailed out companies spend money to lobby the government, should we expect greater transparency about their lobbying operations? This is an important question considering that preliminary reports show that the top bailout firms spent over $10 million on lobbying the federal government in the first quarter of this year and $22 million on lobbying over the last six months. This is according to a Washington Post examination of lobbying disclosure reports:

The biggest spenders among major firms in the group included General Motors, which spent nearly $1 million a month on lobbying, and Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase, which together spent more than $2.5 million in their efforts to sway lawmakers and Obama administration officials on a wide range of financial issues. In all, major bailout recipients have spent more than $22 million on lobbying in the six months since the government began doling out rescue funds, Senate disclosure records show.

We have previously laid out principles that would inprove lobbying disclosure including, the real-time disclosure of lobbying contacts and the expansion of who registers as a lobbyist. It appears that commonsense would dictate that firms spending money on lobbying, and their hired lobbyists, while receiving taxpayer money to keep them from going bankrupt ought to, at the very least, be required to disclose lobbying contacts made to legislative and executive branch officials.

While I firmly believe that the disclosure of lobbying contacts should be adopted as an overall policy for all lobbyists, it wouldn’t hurt to start with mandating disclosure from these select firms and their hired lobbyists.

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  • Perhaps it is time for a reset.

    In pre-Internet days, the only way to communicate with a Congressional representative was via letter, meeting in person, or phone. The only way to communicate the contents of those meetings to constituents was … well, there really was not any reliable and pragmatic means.

    In the present, the easiest way to communicate is via email, or a message posted to a web-based forum (and in fact email becomes a just another way to post to the web-based public forum).

    Sometimes email is not as efficient as conversation, on the phone or in person. Conversations can be recorded, transcribed, and placed on the web.

    Sometimes the speaker is important. An industry representative, a well-respected academic, a topic-significant organization – each should have a “louder” voice – at times.

    Outside of contrived cases – is there any reason that this should not all be part of the public record? Current technology means recording *everything* and making it accessible via the Internet, is not hard.

    In those few cases where the contents of meetings must be secret (and there should be few such cases), the fact that the meeting occurred (and with whom) should be recorded, and the record of the contents of the meeting stored – but not released – for exactly as long as secrecy is needed.

    Take this as an answer to “Who will watch the Watchers?”. The answer enabled by technology is “Anyone who wants.” The same technology that allows creeping progress towards a surveillance state, can be reflected on government, and can improve the long term health of our society.

    If “lobbying” does not mean parties, junkets, and closed-door meetings with Congress-folk – and if all communications with lobbyists are recorded – how much room is left for harm?

  • Vakil

    The answer is, obviously, yes. The problem is, obviously, that it’s cyclical. The people getting money from these lobbying efforts are the one who have to restrict the receipt of this money. As much as Obama talks about change, he isn’t moving far or fast enough for me believe much will change. That is why you guys at Sunlight are so important. Transparency is the only way to keep the screws on.