Rep. Quigley’s Transparency Bill – UPDATED

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) recently released a bill designed to increase transparency in the U.S. Congress and in other branches of government. The Transparency in Government Act – H.R. 4983 – includes a change to the reporting requirements for federally registered lobbyists.

Some provisions of the bill include: (from Rep. Quigley’s press release on the bill)

  • Establishing new definitions for lobbyists and stricter rules governing how and with whom they meet
  • Creating a searchable, sortable, and downloadable database for earmarks, where taxpayers can see all appropriations in one place
  • Improving public access to information about members of Congress, including disclosure of financial information, travel reports, gifts, and earmark requests
  • Requiring committees to post all roll call votes and video of hearings and mark-ups online
  • Improving oversight and accuracy of (federal contracting Web site) by allowing the public to report errors and requiring audits of the information on the site
  • Instructing all FOIA requests of federal agencies be published online promptly after they are completed

The change that would be biggest for current lobbyists is a potential shorter turnaround for disclosure reporting. The bill as it currently stands would require a 72-hour turnaround on registration, would could create significant paperwork problems for some lobbyists. When GAO released their LDA Disclosure Audit, they noted that some lobbyists complained that the time for paperwork preparation was already insufficient as it stands now. UPDATED: The phrase that we originally posted, “72-hour turnaround on reporting” was misleading. The bill actually would require lobbyists to register within 72 hours of their first lobbying contact, rather than having the option to wait up to 45 days, as the law currently stands. This is a registration requirement, not a reporting requirement. We apologize for the error.

The bill also requires a study by the Comptroller General of the GAO to determine whether “non-lobbyists” (who are engaging in either lobbying under the 20% time threshold, or not directly lobbying members of Congress) should be registering. The legislation’s language suggests that its framers are suspicious of lobbyists de-registering:

“Whether and to what extent persons exerting substantial influence on the legislative process and executive branch decisionmaking are avoiding the registration and reporting requirements under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.”

It remains to be seen whether this bill will gain any traction (it is currently sitting in the House Oversight and Government Reform, Rules,  House Administration, and Judiciary Committees).  But given the Democrats’ and Obama Administrations’ emphasis on ethics and transparency, further action may be likely.

As an interesting aside,  Rep. Quigley discusses his new transparency bill and the role of lobbyists in the political process in a National Journal interview on May 1,

Quigley: “Lobbyists aren’t a bad thing. I respect that every interest has a right to be represented on the Hill by lobbyists. I tell my constituents, you may not like the pharmaceutical lobbyist or the tobacco lobbyist, but your school system has someone here, and the cancer society has someone here. People don’t understand that lobbyists advocate, educate, and inform — and that is super-important. I can hire a great staff, but lobbyists have some of the best information.”

The National Journal article is posted here (subscription required).

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