Posts Tagged ‘sunlight foundation’

Revolving Door Spinning at Cyclone Speed

Monday, February 10th, 2014 by Vbhotla

IT’S WELL KNOWN in Washington that congressional staffers tend to be underpaid and overworked. One might assume that they accept these conditions in exchange for the connections and prestige that Congress affords. Increasingly, however, the motivation is a lucrative job on K Street.

Despite HLOGA, more than 1,650 former Congressional aides have registered to lobby less than a year after leaving Congress, according to the New York Times. These freshly-minted lobbyists often return to the Hill to lobby on the very legislation that they worked on while they were staffers. The rules that intended to prevent this “revolving door” effect are so weak, particularly in the House, as to be practically nonexistent. As the Times points out, former House staffers can avoid the one-year moratorium on lobbying as long as their salaries are less than the paltry sum of $130,500.

In fact, restrictions on the revolving door have been so easily circumvented that, according to the Sunlight Foundation, the number of registered lobbyists with previous government experience actually peaked in 2009, two years after the passage of HLOGA. To make matters worse, as LobbyBlog reports, even though lobbying registrations are on the decline, there is a well-known shadow industry of unregistered lobbyists who are working as “strategic advisors” while still technically complying with current disclosure rules. It stands to reason that there are even more former staffers who are “unlobbyists” to whom the current lobbying restrictions don’t apply at all.

So why is this a big deal? The biggest concern is that staffers and members who are eyeing a cushy job on K Street will try to influence legislation to favor their future employers before they even leave Capitol Hill. Indeed, as the Times points out, staffers are often hired because of specific legislation or issue areas on which they worked, and when the turnaround from staffer to lobbyist can be measured in months or even weeks,  the current system’s potential for abuse becomes apparent.

Lobbyists.info Data Reveal $3.6 Billion in Undisclosed Expenditures

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

IT’S WELL KNOWN within the beltway (and probably suspected from outside it) that most lobbying activity is off the record, hidden from the public eye.  When the GAO finds in its annual audit of lobbying disclosure reports that, for instance, 97 percent of lobbyists reported their income and expenses in 2012, the few of us who read such banal compositions have to chuckle, as if to say “yeah, 97 percent of registered lobbyists.”

It’s a plain fact that the so-called “influence industry” isn’t only comprised of registered lobbyists, and that recorded expenditures only make up a portion of what lobbyists are actually spending.  The rest of this money remains “dark,” “underground,” or whichever nefarious adjective fits the occasion.  But has anyone ever wondered how much is actually hidden?

Political Science Professor Tim LaPira has.  In his latest blog post for the Sunlight Foundation, LaPira takes Lobbyists.info data to estimate total lobbying expenditures in 2012. The current figure, which only accounts for legally disclosed spending, is $3.31 billion.  LaPira estimates that over twice that – an eye-watering $6.7 billion – was actually spent last year.

The magnitude of $6.7 billion is generously put into context:

Let’s put that number in perspective: For every one member of Congress, the influence industry produces about $12.5 million in lobbying. By comparison, the average 2012 budget for member [sic.] of the House of Representative’s office was only $1.3 million.  So, in 2012—a presidential election year, in a down economy, during arguably the least productive Congress ever—“government relaters” accounted for more than nine times the typical House member’s official operating expenses.

Whether LaPira’s findings are accurate is unknowable.  His calculations rely on the unfalsifiable assumption that lobbyists operating outside of the disclosure framework – “stealth” lobbyists, as he calls them – are spending just as much as their compliant peers.  Still, if LaPira’s estimate were off by as much as $2 billion, there remain billions that are being spent unaccountably and with insouciance for the law.  That’s concerning.

For Their Eyes Only: CIA Lobbying Disclosures Under Wraps

Friday, September 20th, 2013 by Vbhotla

WITH GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY very much in the spotlight in recent months, it’s no surprise that agencies’ lobbying disclosure is under scrutiny. As LobbyBlog wrote back in July, six different government agencies, including the NSA, FBI, and CIA, rebuffed requests for lobbying disclosure forms, instead advising POLITICO to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, which can sometimes take years to be answered.

Now, POLITICO reports that the CIA is flatly refusing to disclose lobbying reports by its contractors. They do so on the grounds that the reports, the “existence or nonexistence” of which the agency would not confirm, may or may not contain classified information.

In addition to the standard lobbying disclosures that must be filed with the Senate or House, there is a supplemental form that must also be submitted by any company that has received money from the federal government. Despite the fact that this form is filed with the Office of Management and Budget, the OMB claims that it doesn’t collect information from the forms:

OMB does not collect information from the public through the SF-LLL; for details about the use of information collected with a specific form, OMB would refer you to the relevant agency issuing the form…

Of course, as the CIA makes clear, there is little accountability and no transparency for these agencies, and the only way to obtain lobbying disclosure information is through cumbersome and expensive FOIA requests. As Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation notes, “this is one of these strange things where the federal government has laws on the books that they don’t follow themselves….”

It would seem the only way to turn government opacity into transparency is through specific legislation prohibiting the loopholes and gray areas that federal agencies are using to hide lobbying disclosures. But even then, it’s likely that agencies will continue to flaunt the law. In other words, if you’re hoping to find out how money changes hands between contractors and the government, don’t hold your breath.

Lobbyist Registration Meter

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons


The Anatomy of a Sequester

Friday, November 30th, 2012 by Geoffrey Lyons

THE FIRST AND third most expensive lobbying issues for the 112th Congress are taxes and the budget.  The two most important issues surrounding the fiscal cliff are – surprise – taxes and the budget.

Obvious and intuitive as this may be in theory, it’s a mess on paper.

To the rescue is clamoring for a say in a grand bargain.  His conclusion:

“At this point, we have no idea what the final sausage of budget cuts and tax loophole closures will look like. But whatever winds up on the chopping block, there will be plenty of yelling and screaming from somewhere.”

And by “somewhere” he means “everywhere.”  The Sunlight Foundation’s “Sunlight Labs” lists no fewer than 62 sectors that have already exceeded $1 million in lobbying expenditures on tax lobbying alone.

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