Today NPR’s Planet Money team aired a story about disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s legal lobbying activities (as few of those as there may have been), highlighting how problematic even currently legal lobbying practices are. Also today, the New York Times pointed out some of the huge loopholes in current lobbying law — Newt Gingrich, for example, isn’t actually a lobbyist, he just spends lots of his time talking to lawmakers about how policy should be made. Y’know, as a historian.
The powerful (and corrupting, as we saw with Abramoff) influence of special interest money in politics can be extremely hard to follow, but better lobbying laws could change that. Lobbying activity is the most tangible means to measure the money and effort that powerful interests are spending to influence lawmakers.
Closing the loopholes that let “historians” like Newt Gingrich act as stealth lobbyists and creating real-time, online disclosure about just who lobbyists are meeting with and what they’re talking about would be a powerful first step to shining a light on who’s actually influencing our lawmakers.
How do we fix it? A good first step, as Daniel wrote the other day, is the Lobbying Disclosure Enhancement Act, introduced by Rep. Quigley. The bill needs your help to get more support in Congress. You can write to your rep right from OpenCongress.org to ask them to co-sponsor the bill. You can also read more about Sunlight’s lobbying recommendations and sign up to get updates on lobbying reform here.