Politicians, Disclose Thyself!

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This week, a group of senators and representatives introduced a measure dubbed the DISCLOSE Act to counteract the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened the door for free-wheelin’ corporate spending related to elections. The transparency-loving folks at the Sunlight Foundation note that the bill:

does shine a powerful light on new spending and activities related to corporate political expenditures. Many of the provisions echo the recommendations Sunlight made shortly after the decision came down. For example, the bill creates new stand-by-your ad provisions requiring the leaders of corporations, unions and other organizations to appear in their campaign ads and state they approve the message. It goes even further towards uncovering the true power (and money) behind the ads by also requiring the top funder of an ad to make a stand-by-your-ad disclaimer and by requiring the top five donors to the organization that purchases the ads to be listed on the screen.

But they also have a major gripe about the measure: “the light fades to a little more than a flicker when it comes to disclosing the information about the activities of members of Congress and lobbyists who attempt to influence them.” The group explains:

While the bill rightly requires lobbyists and lobbying entities to disclose details about the electioneering expenditures they make, it should also require disclosure of the names of the officials who were lobbied. Current law does not require lobbyists to say they lobbied the office of Senator Smith. Instead, lobbyists are only required to report that they lobbied the House, the Senate, or the executive branch.  But, without knowing who the lobbyist reached out to for a significant government action, there is no way for the public to know if there is a link between lobbying activities, the votes or other actions taken by a member of Congress, and when that member of Congress becomes the focus of corporate electioneering expenditures.

Forcing more information into the public realm about the activities of lobbyists who scurry through the hallways of Capitol Hill has long been a goal of Washington’s good-government advocates. But, of course, legislators don’t want to tell the public about the lobbyists they and their staffs are meeting with. After all, that might actually give citizens some insight into how decisions are made in Congress. So it comes as no surprise that even reform-minded lawmakers left this out of the DISCLOSE Act. These officials are only willing to show so much.

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