Citizens United Part 2 – Lobbyist Disclosure

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Sunlight recently developed a seven-point plan for a comprehensive and meaningful disclosure regime in a post-Citizens United political world.

John blogged about the first piece of the platform, Independent Expenditures, and today I’ll be focusing lobbying disclosure, which, even before Citizens United, needed to be updated to address the who, what, when, and why a lobbying contact took place. In the wake of Citizens United, real time, online, substantive disclosure becomes even more critical to demonstrate that corporate expenditures are indeed independent and to shed light on whether there is even the appearance of coercion.

Require Substantive, Timely Disclosure by Lobbyists

Imagine the following: Fat Cat Lobbyist meets Senator Spineless to ask for help with a controversial bill. Soon after, the airwaves in Senator Spineless’ state are blanketed with ads paid for by Fat Cat’s corporate (or union) client, supporting the senator in an upcoming election. The fundamental question is whether, when the senator met with the lobbyist, he felt threatened that he would face a barrage of negative attacks if he did not support the lobbyist’s position. As it stands now, nowhere is it disclosed that the meeting between the senator and the lobbyist even took place. There is simply no way for the public to decipher the senator’s motivation or whether he is acting in the public interest.

To shed light on such possible conflicts of interests, it is critical that within 24 hours of contacting a government official to request a specific government action, lobbyists be required to electronically report the name of the official being lobbied, a summary of the action requested and the name of the lobbyist’s client or employer.

Part and parcel to the requirement that lobbyists disclose the names of the officials they meet with is the requirement that all influence peddlers be required to report their meetings. The current 20 percent exemption for lobbyist reporting must be eliminated so that all significant contacts in which a request is made for a government action are fully disclosed. Corporate and union heads along with anyone who bundles campaign contributions must be required to report their meetings with government officials so that a gaping disclosure loophole can be closed.

The Citizens United decision gave corporations and unions a new and forceful method to twist the arms of elected officials in the form of threatened independent expenditures. This is a powerful weapon in the arsenal of organizations with very deep pockets. Only by exposing when and how that coercive weapon may be being used can the public understand its impact and have at least a chance of combating it.

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  • gail houston

    More history on the corporate personality: see my chapter on Dracula and the corporate personality in Gail Turley Houston, From Dickens to Dracula: Economics, Gothic, and Victorian Fiction (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

    Review of this book by Gill Ballinger:

    “Houston’s final chapter on Dracula is also rewarding; whilst the Gothic resonances of this novel have been scrutinized in great detail, she brings an interesting perspective to the text through her reading of the economic anxieties it depicts. She illustrates successfully how the novel can be read in the context of the corporate personality and bankerization. Both Dracula and Van Helsing are, she contends, competing for “a complete monopoly on circulation and consumption” (117). Dracula is read in the context of the foreign investor competing, and attempting, to overthrow his competitors. Although this argument is suggestive, it would have been useful for Houston to acknowledge Franco Moretti’s Marxist approach to the novel in his chapter “Dialectic of Fear” in Signs Taken for Wonders (1983), specifically Moretti’s consideration of how Dracula is “a true monopolist.””