Open Notebook: Flaws in Lobbying Disclosure 2


In 2008, according to a federal disclosure form that’s available online from the Labor Department, the national headquarters of the Service Employees International Union spent $67 million on political activities and lobbying. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce files an annual report with the Internal Revenue Service that requires it to disclose spending on lobbying activities; the IRS does not post those disclosures online. We requested a copy from the Chamber, which they are sending to us in the mail.

As noted below, Sunlight Foundation’s reporters are trying to develop more accurate, itemized numbers for spending on political influence by two of Washington heavyweights.
We’re starting with some of the core organizational documents of each group. The U.S. Department of Labor maintains a Web site for disclosure of union financial activities here. There aren’t great instructions on how to use the site, but there is a way to download the various components of the data reported on form LM-2 in a CSV format.

Like most (probably all) federal data, the spreadsheet that results is dirty–a lot of data shows up in improper fields–but it is possible to sort out political activities and lobbying.

The data suffers from another limitation: it’s released annually–so while it’s nice to know that SEIU spent more than $67 million on political activities and lobbying in 2008, that doesn’t help much with what’s going on in 2009.

When we receive the Chamber’s 990 in the mail, we’ll let you know what we find.