“Transparency in government, no less than transparency in choosing our government, remains a vital national interest in a democracy.”
That’s what the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit said in a critical ruling upholding disclosure requirements for organizations that actively participate in the planning, supervision or control of lobbying activities.
The National Association of Manufacturers brought the case to challenge a requirement in the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act requiring disclosure of the name and address of organizations that contribute more than $5,000 toward funding lobbying activities of the registered lobbying organization and actively participate in the planning, supervision and control of those lobbying activities.
In other words, NAM objects to providing greater transparency of who is lobbying Congress and what their interests are. Fortunately, the Court disagreed and recognized that in creating the law:
[Congress] has merely provided for a modicum of information from those who for hire attempt to influence legislation or who collect or spend funds for that purpose. It wants only to know who is being hired, who is putting up the money, and how much.
It seems reasonable to suggest that some of NAM’s 11,000 members have contributed and are actively involved in NAM’s lobbying efforts on health care reform. But which ones? And what are their interests? Are they large manufacturers or small ones? Do they provide health insurance to their workers or don’t they? NAM doesn’t want anyone to find out. But if those organizations are not disclosed, the rest of us, who don’t have giant membership organizations to hide behind, are at a disadvantage when it comes to responding to arguments members of Congress are hearing.
In some circumstances, disclosure of members’ names may be unconstitutional because it chills speech or puts members at risk. In the case of lobbying, the court found no such constitutional impediments to disclosure, noting that the law does not prohibit the lobbyists from saying anything and disclosure upholds a vital national interest. More complete lobbying disclosure as HLOGA required creates public awareness and improves trust in government by shining light efforts to influence congressional and executive branch decision-making.
The court upheld the premise that Sunlight has long advocated—that disclosure of lobbying activities provides a minimally intrusive but tremendously important check on the powers that are influencing the most important decisions Congress makes.