Deterring Corruption by Improving Disclosure

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Late last week, PMA lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti was sentenced to 27 months in prison and a $75,000 fine after pleading guilty to making illegal campaign contributions. For five years, Magliocchetti illegally used corporate funds from the once powerful PMA lobbying firm to reimburse friends and colleagues who made contributions to political candidates. Magliocchetti’s illicit generosity helped him secure earmarks from Members of Congress for many of his clients.

Some small measure of justice is served by Magliocchetti’s sentence, but if there were real time online reporting of lobbyists’ activities, perhaps it wouldn’t have taken five years to detect his scheme. Or, perhaps the scrutiny that comes with more frequent, detailed disclosures would have had a deterrent effect—Magliocchetti might have been less likely to commit a crime had he thought he risked being caught.

Sunlight is embarking on a campaign to improve lobbyists’ disclosures. (Check it out here, and sign up if you want to learn more.) Among the changes we propose is a requirement that lobbyists identify, in real time, who they are meeting with and what they are asking for. Such disclosures will, we believe, improve the democratic process and the ongoing policy dialogue by providing the public a clear idea of the issues that are hot on Capitol Hill and the interests that are lobbying in support or opposition to them. In the Magliocchetti case, such disclosures might also have quickly uncovered, or even prevented, the corrupting influence of Magliocchetti’s money laundering scheme.

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