Up and down K Street today, lobbyists are filing contribution reports detailing campaign contributions they made to Members of Congress. It's a good idea with a major flaw. The reports should be filed in real time -- as soon as a lobbyist makes a contribution. Instead, they are filed semi-annually, delaying public access to information about which Members of Congress are being supported, or courted, by the power brokers in Washington.
Because the semi-annual reports are due a full month after the reporting period ends, it could be as much as seven months between when a contribution is made and when the information is made public. There is simply no need, and no excuse, for such a delay. Filing is easy and even the most generous lobbyist could file a contribution report online in about the same time it takes to write a check.
Delayed disclosure does not meet the full potential of real time transparency. Watchdogs can't connect the dots between legislative activities and lobbyists' contributions if the contributions are not disclosed until long after they are made. Competing interests can't level the playing field if they don't know their opponent has been playing the game for months. And the public may not know which special interest their representatives may be beholden to if disclosure is delayed.
You can comment on Sunlight's proposal for real time contribution reporting as well other changes we recommend for better disclosure of lobbying activities at PublicMarkup.org.
Written by Lisa Rosenberg of the Sunlight Foundation