A Treasure Trove of Information Left Unopen

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Sometimes important information about the way Washington works is easily accessible online, but those “in the know” don’t know how to use it. Take this story from the New York Times. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture held a hearing on derivatives legislation. Washington lobbyist Ed Rosen testified on behalf of the 650 organizations that make up the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.  According to the story, Rep. Peterson was unaware that Rosen lobbied for CDS Dealers Consortium, a group of nine Wall Street leviathans including JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup. CDS Dealers Consortium is a much narrower group that has potentially conflicting interests in derivatives legislation than SIFMA. Had Rep. Peterson known that Rosen represented CDS, “it would have guided his questioning and interpretation of Mr. Rosen’s testimony.” The Times infers that the information was unknown because “those testifying at such hearings are not required to disclose their affiliations.”  This is misleading, as the Times reporters themselves noted earlier in the article that lobbying records clearly show that Mr. Rosen was hired to represent CDS.

Had Rep. Peterson or his staff simply typed Ed Rosen’s name into the LDA disclosure search form on the House Clerk’s web site, the information he needed would have popped up in seconds. He would have had a relatively short time frame before the hearing to discover the information, so we will cut him a little slack and use the example to point out the need for real time online disclosure of lobbyist information. According to the lobbyist registration form, CDS Dealers Consortium hired Mr. Rosen on November 13, 2008. Mr. Rosen delayed filing the registration form until Thursday, January 29, 2009, and he filed his lobbying disclosure report the next day. According to the House Clerk’s office, both documents would have been accessible within one day of filing—a day or two before the February 4th hearing. But the tight timeline points out how the current quarterly reporting regime combined with registration requirements that allow 45 days or more to pass before registration forms need to be filed can be used to game the system, delaying disclosure until after it is useful or relevant. Still, even the best, most timely filing system doesn’t do anyone any good if the people who are in the best position to use the data fail to look for it. In this case, the derivatives hearing and any resulting legislation could have taken an entirely different tone if anyone had done his homework.

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