Sunlight Roundup: Lobbying at the Local Level
When lobbyists play the influence game, a lot is at stake. Conflict of interest is becoming an issue of public concern -- even at the local level. The Sunlight Foundation rounds up the latest local transparency efforts.
This blog post was written by Sunlight Foundation Intern Zubedah Nanfuka
When lobbyists play the influence game, a lot is at stake. And as Sunlight Foundation Senior Writer Paul Blumenthal noted, conflict of interest is first becoming an issue of public concern -- even at the local level. Some bloggers, such as Matthew Greller, have advocated for the passing of legislation that will minimize the likelihood of conflict of interest while opening up more opportunities for the public to participate in government. Whereas this is a step in the right direction towards opening up government, if there is partial or no disclosure of activities that go on between lobbyists and lawmakers, even the strongest legislation may not be able to promote the desired transparency:
- Larry Geller is asking the Hawaii Ethics Commission to pay closer attention to reports submitted by lobbyists. In an earlier post, he questioned the lack of full disclosure by lobbyists. Now, Geller lays out how they are posting partial information on the Ethics website that is not reflective of how much they spent. See how he makes a push for more disclosure including displaying a list of lawmakers who attend lobbying events on Disappeared News.
- A one-sentence bill that will require state house lobbyists in Vermont to wear ID badges displaying their names and who they work for has been proposed by State Rep. Jason Lorber. The bill, H-186, is aimed at providing better scrutiny of how government operates in a state where lobbyists have more access to lawmakers than any other state. Andy Bromage is tracking the lobbyist compensation disclosure and notes that it has been steady since 2007. However, close monitoring of relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers is necessary as the former are usually the sole source of information that is used to enact legislation. See how he explains this on the Seven Days blog.
- Matthew Greller, the Executive Director of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, is suggesting an alternative way of improving efficiency and transparency -- passing conflict-of-interest legislation. He believes that this kind of legislation could reduce the skepticism that the public has towards government employees, especially when they vote on laws that affect their income. In his guest blog post for Aiming Higher for Indiana’s Future, he suggests that a public servant’s ‘expertise’ may not always be required in council decisions because the same information can be solicited in public hearings.
- Lobbyists in Providence, R.I., may soon have to register with City Hall if a new ordinance from Council President Michael Solomon and Finance Chairman John Igliozzi is approved. Jason Haas references GoLocalProv which says that some council members are concerned that the new reform will shut out community groups and nonprofits, but will make the city the pioneer in lobbyist regulation in the state. He explains more of the lobbyist legislation (which will have anyone who is lobbying council members, the mayor and other city officials and is paid for the services register with the City Clerk) on The Political Disclosure Corporation.
- A new bill in North Dakota that would widen participation in a database containing government information from state level to local government has been passed. Despite resistance from local government entities that claimed that this bill will be costly, Rob Port is urging residents to support it. Head on over to the Say Anything Blog to see all about it.
- If you are living in a big city and are looking for a way to reform your city’s government using technology, then The City Forward Initiative may be the right tool for you. Cliff Schecter blogs that the "tool that pulls public data from urban centers" and "displays it in customizable graphs" will help the public access public information in a more understandable way. Check out the responses to this initiative on The Agonist.