Regardless of who wins the presidential election, the next administration will have enormous power to say how open our government will be. We have organized our priorities for the next administration below, to share where we think our work on executive branch issues will be focused, in advance of the election results. From money in politics to open data, spending, and freedom of information, we’ll be working to open up the Executive Branch.
We’d love to hear any suggestions you might have for Sunlight’s Executive Branch work, please leave additional ideas in the comments below.
(We’ll also be sharing other recommendations soon, including a legislative agenda for the 113th Congress, and a suite of reform proposals for the House and Senate rules packages.)
Sunlight Reform Agenda for the Next Administration:
1. Money in Politics: The President needs to commit to a legislative agenda for money-in-politics transparency. 2012 will have been the most expensive election ever, and, more importantly, the most secretive in recent history, as gutted campaign finance laws have allowed unlimited, often secret money to pour into our elections. At the top of the list is the DISCLOSE Act, our best chance to know whose money is affecting our politics. The President could also use executive orders to require contractors to disclose their political spending, and create a policy to require disclosure for top administration officials’ participation in big dollar fundraising. Sunlight will be pushing for leadership from the top, legislative reform, and any other avenues we can to help create a government that deserves our trust.
2. Lobbying Disclosure: The President needs to create real time, online disclosure for lobbying. Real lobbying disclosure needs to be as strong as the influence it seeks to affect, and for us that means real-time reporting, and online disclosure. Sunlight will continue to advocate for the Lobbyist Disclosure Enhancement Act, and push the White House to do what they can without Congress. The relatively strong, self-imposed lobbying disclosure that was created for the TARP, stimulus, and Dodd-Frank implementation should be applied across the executive, and reporting should be standardized and electronic, to empower reuse and analysis. The White House should also fix the neglected OIRA lobbying disclosure policy.
3. Beyond Visitor Logs: The White House should move beyond the visitor logs disclosure policy, to a reliable lobbying disclosure policy for the White House and its officials. The visitor logs were never intended to become an accountability mechanism, and while they’ve been used to create important narratives about power in Washington, there are significant shortfalls in how they’re enforced that show that they’re ultimately insufficient for the task the current administration has assigned them.
4. Publicly Manage Data: All major datasets and information systems should be publicly listed by central authority in the White House, or by every agency. The biggest shortfall with federal data transparency policy is that it’s not comprehensive, and agencies often ignore it, since decisions about what information gets published happen in private. If agencies take responsibility for their information and data, then we’ll see more data, they’ll make better decisions in the public interest, and if they don’t, those decisions will be reviewable. Public lists of public information will continue to be a top priority for Sunlight during the next administration.
5. Other Agencies and Money in Politics: Other agencies and independent agencies can also help safeguard some accountability for how our elections are financed. The FCC, as they build to comprehensive disclosure of public files (which should not have been delayed), should ensure that they’re creating the most robust, useful disclosure of ad-buy information, including all markets, structured data, and FEC identifiers. The FCC should also create an online database of political ads, so that efforts like Sunlight’s Ad Hawk have a canonical list to refer to. The IRS should investigate and enforce their C4 rules, the FEC needs fundamental reform, and the SEC should pursue corporate reforms that can mitigate the worst corporate political abuses.
6. Put Spending Communications from Congress Online: Executive Order 13457 already exists, and the next administration should enforce it. If Members of Congress are going to (often hypocritically) ask for money for their district directly from agencies, then agencies should disclose those requests online, as that order already requires. Sunlight opposes illicit earmark requests, and the current “ban” has made the problem worse.
7. Spending Transparency: Our federal spending, tax expenditures, budget, and contracting systems all need attention. Federal grants reporting suffers from serious data quality issues (which the DATA Act would help to address), tax expenditures (despite being a quarter of federal spending) are only estimated, not measured, federal contracts are treated as proprietary information, and the budget process remains inscrutable to all but the most devoted experts.
8. Corporate Identifiers: Despite heroic work from public interest advocates, corporate activity is needlessly difficult to track because the government relies on proprietary, flawed systems to track corporate entities. Sunlight will continue to push for a reliable, open system that allows anyone to uniquely identify legal entities and track their activities. We will also continue to support bills like the Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act, to create more corporate accountability.
9. FOIA: The next administration should work to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act. The EPA’s new online submission and tracking system should be supported and more widely adopted, the DOJ’s regressive FOIA regulations should be replaced with regulations that strengthen public access, and the presumption in favor of disclosure should be coupled with actions and legal postures that support claims of openness.
10. Data Policy: The next administration should keep, strengthen, and seek to codify the open data policies that the Obama administration has implemented, including the Open Government Directive and the Digital Government Strategy. Public information should be posted online, data should be available in bulk and in structured formats, and systems that power open data should be supported and expanded. The White House has often led in recent years on opening data, and that leadership role should grow during the next administration.
11. Build a Healthy Public Politics: The last administration and Congress together created some extremely secretive, undemocratic processes to deal with some of our most important policy fights. The government shutdown fights, debt limit negotiations, and supercommittee all saw our political leaders turn away from the public that elected them, and toward secret negotiations. While secrecy has its place in some negotiations, our elected representatives should feel a responsibility to carry out their political responsibilities in public, and not just in derivative, pre-prepared ways. Sunlight will continue to push for an adult political posture from our leaders that treats public dialog as a goal rather than a barrier. The gamesmanship that comes from divided government doesn’t need to lead away from transparency.
12. Open Government Partnership: The Open Government Partnership, while complex and relatively new, has opened a vital space for important new commitments from heads of state around the world, including in the US (most notably with the US EITI commitment). The next administration should continue to support the OGP (especially since the US was a cofounder, along with Brazil), and should keep working on the OGP National Action Plan.
13. National Security: The next adminisration needs to treat national security transparency policies as essential to the rule of law. America’s military role in the world dictates higher stakes for democratic accountability; we should be the standard bearers for accountability and transparency. Overly aggressive whistleblower prosecution, secret legal justifications, and permanent secrecy for government killings of citizens all severely undermine democratic accountability, and weaken our democracy.