With President Obama’s public inauguration in just under six weeks, and the start of the new Congress in four, what happens now will set the tone for the next few years. Here are 3 major transparency developments that we’ll be watching to develop by Inauguration Day.
(1) President Obama’s Second Inaugural should return to his themes of making government work for the people, not the special interests, by embracing comprehensive lobbying reform and bringing transparency to dark money’s role in politics.
During the first campaign, candidate Obama said, “I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over.” While some efforts have been made to require better lobbying transparency, the administration has been lax in enforcing its own disclosure rules, largely ignoring important lobbying disclosure bills like the LDEA. While it was much more active with urging the adoption of post-Citizens United transparency requirements for campaigns, the DISCLOSE Act has failed to pass the Senate and the administration declined to act on its own. Just recently, it stoked outrage by going to corporations to fund inaugural activities. In his second inaugural, the President should recommit his administration to weakening the undue power special interests have in setting Washington’s agenda by adopting an affirmative agenda for lobbying reform and campaign finance transparency. We have a few suggestions to help them get started.
(2) As the debate over spending, prompted by the fiscal cliff, comes to a head, negotiations over its resolution should be public, and the government should improve disclosure on how it raises and spends money.
President Obama and congressional negotiators are keeping the public largely in the dark about negotiations over the fiscal cliff. We believe our elected officials can do better, and have called on them to “commit to ensuring that any legislation resulting from the negotiations is online for 72 hours prior to consideration in Congress and that any side agreements, including promised votes on future legislation, are also made public.” At the same time, the fight over rebalancing the government’s books may incorporate a discussion over making information about federal spending available to the public. Legislation that would do this, known as the DATA Act, has already passed the House and is pending in the Senate. By Inauguration Day, we hope that our elected officials will have used the fiscal cliff to mark a new era of financial transparency.
(3) The House and Senate should adopt new rules of procedure that strengthen how they make information available to the public.
In the last Congress, the House required all of its hearings to be webcast, set in motion the creation of a new transparency portal, allowed electronic devices on the floor and official electronic documents online, and overall took a huge step towards greater transparency (including a commitment to improved public access to legislative data by the end of the 112th Congress). While the Senate did not alter its rules at the beginning of the last Congress, the impending fight over filibuster reform may mean that the upper chamber will consider revamping many of its procedures. Here are some changes we’d like to see in the House and Senate to help them open up.