It’s that time of year again, folks—when lobbying outfits are required to file their year-end lobbying disclosure reports. This year, due to a new rule requiring electronic filing of disclosure information, the whining from K Street is actually newsworthy. Somehow, even with the lobbying industry’s record-breaking revenues, these multi-million-dollar outfits are still unable to handle the alleged burden of submitting their forms via the internet.
Last summer, the chairman of the House Administration Committee, Bob Ney (R-Ohio), surprised us all by making mandatory the electronic filing of lobbying reports. (Previously, lobbyists had the option of filing electronically or via snail mail.) In a “Dear Colleague” letter dated June 29, 2005, Rep. Ney explained that the change would improve transparency by making disclosure reports more readily available to the public. Public Citizen, along with others, lauded this change as a major boost for public disclosure.
Jeffrey Birnbaum of the Washington Post writes that shortly after Ney’s order, “lobbyists began to complain the Internet-based system was cumbersome, complicated and expensive.” I find this a little hard to believe. Sure, learning a new system can take some work. But this isn’t rocket science – millions of people file stuff through the internet every day.
The truth is, lobbying firms have never taken disclosure seriously. To them, it’s an unnecessary burden and it reveals information they’d rather keep private. But for the public (and for watchdogs like us), lobbying disclosure is one of the most important means for investigating whether elected officials are representing our interests—or the interests that send members on lavish golfing trips. If lobbying firms spent as much on filing their reports as they do on jetting members off to faraway lands, I’m guessing they’d have figured out by now how to submit a “digital signature” to the clerk of the House.