Information about who is trying to influence our government should be available to the public with as few restrictions as possible. At a minimum, empowering the public to know about who has access to power (and how they try to influence that power) should include details about who lobbies, who is being lobbied, and what is being lobbied about.
The state of municipal lobbying disclosure varies greatly from one town/city/county to the next, with some municipalities disclosing detailed, structured data about lobbying activity online and others continuing to wrangle with paper and file folders. As we explore the role that open data plays in a broader municipal context, we decided to take a closer look at lobbying data, in particular, to see not just what a complete suite of our ideal open lobbying dataset would include, but to examine the political levers that affect the openness of this data and the kinds of accountability and context that can result from its release.
To this end, we’ve created a Municipal Lobbying Data Guidebook to help local policymakers and advocates create stronger lobbying disclosure. In this guide, we’ve attempted to answer several questions we feel are important to creating a roadmap to meaningful municipal lobbying disclosure. This is not meant to be the complete source for recommendations related to municipal lobbying data or lobbying reform. Rather, this is an exploration of what is possible, with ideas for how to make possibilities into realities.
Lobbying disclosure should provide a meaningful check — and balance — on the world of influence. To do that, the transparency it creates must be proportional to the influence that it seeks to uncover, with attention paid to the completeness, timeliness, and openness of the information that is ultimately disclosed.
This Guidebook is only a first step in articulating and exploring these issues and will feed into our analysis and review of municipal lobbying data and related disclosure initiatives. As we learn more (and hear from you), we plan to refine this guide and to promote best practices.
We welcome your feedback.