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Tag Archive: lobbying disclosure

Suggestions for the OGP National Action Plan

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OGP

The Obama Administration is expected to release the second version of its Open Government Partnership National Action Plan this fall.  The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is the primary multi-national initiative for open government, founded in 2011. The original US plan, released on September 20, 2011, covered a lot of ground, but also suffered a lack of detail and ignored several of the most pressing transparency issues. (Both money in politics and national security went uncovered.)

Given the US’s leadership role in the world (and in OGP), and the variety of issues the country faces, we hope the US National Action Plan will demonstrate how an administration can use transparency reform to help address some of the most fundamental challenges it faces.

The following are four Sunlight priorities for the upcoming US National Action Plan, and are priorities that we’ve often repeated to White House officials in our work.

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Calling for Common Sense (and Bulk Data) in California

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  Request denied. That’s the response MapLight, California Common Cause, and 10 other media, transparency, and reform organizations (including Sunlight) received last Wednesday to a letter submitted to the office of California’s Secretary of State. The letter made a simple request of Secretary Debra Bowen’s office: Add the option of downloading bulk data from California’s campaign finance and lobbying database (Cal-Access) by posting this information in one, single, downloadable file on this public website, and keep this information up-to-date. Not quite a hamfisted transparency reform, but one that’s proved to be quite revealing about online disclosure in the Golden State. Currently there are only two ways to access the information contained on Cal-Access. The first is to slowly surf through the portal’s online interface, choosing limiting, specific sub-fields of information types (i.e Listing by Certified Election Candidates; Incumbents; etc), and relying on the system to generate specific reports that do not allow users to easily compare (or download) information. The second way is via CD-ROM. Yes, to gain “open” access to structured, bulk data from the state of California about campaign finance and lobbying information, you need to submit a request and pay $5 and wait for the state to send you a CD-ROM. There are a lot of problems evident in this scenario, not the least of which is the delay (up to a month!) caused by needing to translate information that already exists in an electronic format into a “physical” one (the CD-ROM). This delay not only costs the state in terms of staff time and resources, but also has a huge cost to the citizens of California. Californians have a right to unfettered access to public information -- like lobbying and campaign finance reports -- which provide vital knowledge and data about how the state government operates and who is trying to influence that power. Five dollars -- or fifty -- is too high a cost to pay for this access.

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“Fiscal Cliff” Casts Shadow of Secrecy

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Just like the debt limit negotiations and Supercommittee process that helped cause it, the so-called "fiscal cliff" of expiring laws is creating another round of secretive negotiations among our political leaders. The heads of both parties now thrive on stories of impending fiscal consequences, even when they're of their own making.

To cope with a polarized electorate, our leaders have figured out a way to create an apparent impending disaster that is unpalatable regardless of one's ideology. Whatever the outcome of their fight with each other, they've created a dystopian future against which they can be made to look like heroes warding off impending doom with their brave bipartisanship.

It doesn't really matter which party started it (both of them) or whether this was avoidable (it was), because divided government has again led us to a place where the most important policy decisions are probably going to be made in secret, and then passed down to the rest of us.

While online disclosure and dialog don't threaten to take away politicians' power anytime soon, they do represent our best chance at elevating substance, rewarding merit, and reducing undue influence, whether in crafting legislation or in dealing with the struggles of divided government. Sunlight's approach to government transparency has made us skeptical observers of these political negotiations, and as we find ourselves entering yet another cycle, we decided to ask:

What can we expect of the next month, and what should we do about it?

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The DC Council should consider improved lobbying disclosure

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The idea that Washington, DC's lobbying disclosure schedule is inadequate is not new, but it might be easy to improve thanks to new legislation targeting campaign finance reform. Lobbying and campaign finance are inherently linked. Companies that lobby the city government invariably give to political campaigns. Currently, those who lobby the DC government and Council only have to report their activities and expenditures twice a year. As a result, journalists, watchdogs and interested citizens often have to wait until far after important debates for crucial information about the special interests that were working to influence policy decisions. Moreover, the bi-yearly requirements make it difficult to paint a complete picture of influence spending, especially in an election year.

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Sunlight’s Priorities for the Next Administration

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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:

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