Do you know where your lobbyist is? He’s on Sunlight Live!

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Whether you’re a gun owner, a home builder, an environmentalist or all of the above, you probably have no idea who is the lobbying federal government on your behalf, when they’re doing it or how it’s being done.

We got a very brief and narrow glance into that work today.

The key aspect in making a live event useful to citizens is to have an engaged community audience.

Our interactive real-time reporting platform, Sunlight Live, covered a meeting between high powered business association lobbyists and Republican leadership of the House of Representatives.

The event was originally scheduled as a closed-door conversation between lobbyists and Republicans on job creation. After outside groups highlighted the hypocrisy of Republican criticism of Democrats’ closed door meetings, Republican leadership decided that the forum would be openly streamed online as part of America Speaking Out: an initiative by Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-OH) to crowd-source policy ideas.

During the event, only a hour long, Sunlight Live performed a full court press to help the public understand the relationship between these huge organizations and Republican leadership. When any lobbyist was on camera we displayed:

  • a short biography of the lobbyist
  • what organization they represent and what issues that organization lobbies on
  • top recipients from the organization’s political action committee (PAC) both in the current cycle and carrerreer totals
  • Along with our usual influence data on members of Congress, our crack team of investigative journalists (joined by Bara Vaida of the National Journal) blogged their research and reaction in real-time. At any moment Sunlight Live viewers accounted for 70-75% of the total audience for the event.

    Here’s an extremely succint summary of what the lobbyists pushed for from Paul Blumenthal on our Reporting Team:

    1) Stop and roll back everything that the Democrats have done. (Chamber of Commerce, Wholesaler-Distributors and others.)

    2) Spend more on infrastructure. This would be stimulus spending. (Builders)

    3) No VAT or consumption taxes. (Retail)

    Of course, you can play back both the video and our live blog here.

    Mark Tapscott of the Washingtion Examiner read my mind and has already posted a constructive critique of the event:

    * Whenever lobbyists are involved, campaign contributions ought to be simultaneously detailed, as the Sunlight Foundation did today with the GOP event. The more one party displays, the more the other has to do the same or better.

    * Make it as inter-active as possible. Give the audience a chance to submit questions in real-time.

    * Provide contact info for all speakers on the screen as they speak.

    * Publicize the cybercast in advance as widely as possible and as far in advance as possible.

    * Avoid the temptation to turn a civics demonstration into show business or message management.

    The key aspect in making a live event like this useful to citizens is to have a community audience engaged in a discourse on the material at hand. We had some great comments in the live blog and on social networks but not nearly enough. Advance notice would have greatly helped build this conversation ahead of time. We also need better uptake from a more diverse set of media partners.

    My final feedback is on the lack of critical integration with the America Speaking Out website itself. The groups these lobbyists represent have massive membership lists. It would have better served the audience (and the Republican leadership) had the lobbyists posted the ideas they were bringing to the forum on the web so their membership base and the public at large could respond to them in advance. The meeting could then be a discussion of that reaction instead of spending time reciting bullet points.

    With each new event we build out the data behind Sunlight Live. What’s next after lobbyist data? We have some amazing ideas and hope to share them with you soon. Get an update on when our next episode will be by following us on Twitter!

    Still here? Looking for who showed up to the meeting?

    Look no further:

    Marlene Colucci American Hotel & Lodging Association
    John McClelland American Rental Association
    Geoff Burr Associated Builders & Contractors
    Steve Sandherr Associated General Contractors
    Brian Worth Independent Electrical Contractors
    Jon Eisen Int’l Foodservice Distributors Association
    David French Int’l Franchise Association
    Joe Stanton National Association of Home Builders
    Jay Timmons Nat’l Association of Manufacturers
    Dirk Van Dongen Nat’l Association of Wholesaler-Distributors
    Jade West Nat’l Association of Wholesaler-Distributors
    Dan Danner Nat’l Federation of Independent Business
    Matt Shay Nat’l Retail Federation
    Lisbeth Lyons Printing Industries of America
    John Emling RILA
    Bruce Josten US Chamber of Commerce
    Mike Aitken* Society for Human Resource Management

    *Mike Aitken is not listed as a lobbyist – he is a Director of Government Affairs.

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