Green Renews Efforts on Lobbying Disclosures

Posted March 7, 2003 at 4:25pm

For four years, a Republican has pushed to shine light on how much money is spent to lobby Congress, but leaders of his own party continue to block his efforts.

What Rep. Mark Green (Wis.) is proposing is nothing more than what the GOP promised it would do when it took back the House — make lobbyist disclosure reports easy to access by the general public. In fact, he’s actually seeking to do less than Republicans originally proposed.

Green’s resolution, which he’s introduced in three successive Congresses, would make the forms lobbyists must file with the chamber accessible on the House Web site. But it would not require lobbyists to file the forms electronically, something Republican leaders talked about in their 1994 “Contract with America” agenda.

The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 requires lobbyists to file registration and financial disclosure forms with the Clerk of the House. But as it stands, individuals seeking the reports have to either go to the Clerk’s office or send a written request for printed copies.

“These are materials that are already accessible through records” requests, Green said, but described the current process as “burdensome.”

“This is not complicated. All we are doing here is saying it should be available to the public” online, he said. “The Senate has taken this step. I think it’s embarrassing for the House not to follow suit.”

For the past few years, lobbyists have been able to file their disclosure forms electronically with the Senate, and the reports are available to view online.

“This is no burden on lobbyists,” Green said of his proposal.

In fact, many lobbyists generally support the measure, partly because it allows them to see what their colleagues are up to.

“As a practical matter, this information is already on the Internet from a variety of sources, however, the House should also allow for the electronic filing of lobbying reports consistent with the current Senate system,” said Deanna Gelak, president of the American League of Lobbyists.

Various watchdog groups post the reports online, but many aren’t well-known or available to the general public.

“This is not addressed in the legislation but is especially critical given the new prohibition on courier deliveries and the delays involved in mailing to any Hill address due to the Hill security policy changes,” she added, citing the relative difficulty of filing the reports because couriers are no longer allowed to deliver items directly to Congressional offices.

In the future, Green would like to allow reports to be filed online with the House, something he worked to enact in the Wisconsin state Legislature. “We went further than we are proposing in Washington. We created options for lobbyists to actually file them online and [ways] for the information to be sorted so that it could be accessed by the public,” he said.

“We really thought this was a modest first step,” Green said of H.R. 43. He introduced the proposal in his first term in 1999 and reintroduced it in 2001 and again this year.

Each time, the resolution was sent to the Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution. And each time, it has died without action. Green acknowledges that he hasn’t pushed the resolution with Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R), a member of his state’s delegation, but says he plans to do so in this session. Green also sits on Judiciary.

But even without aggressively pushing his resolution, Green has worked to get the measure enacted without legislative action. He has written the Clerk’s office twice, he said, once during the last Congress and once in the 106th. The Clerk’s office didn’t respond to either letter, Green spokesman Chris Tuttle said.

“This doesn’t require Congressional action,” Green said. “It’s not as if failure to take up legislation is the reason this is not happening. Our legislation is to give them a little shove. They could do this voluntarily. We have certainly made a number of requests.”

A knowledgeable source said Clerk Jeff Trandahl is simply reading the tea leaves from Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). The source said the resistance, or at least indifference, is ultimately coming from the leadership. The Speaker’s office declined to comment on the proposal.

The resolution — which is only a quarter of a page long and in past Congresses has drawn as many as 24 co-sponsors, has always been referred to the Judiciary subcommittee — even though the Clerk’s office is under the oversight of the House Administration Committee. Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) said he wasn’t aware of the proposal.

“That’s because we have jurisdiction over the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995,” Jeff Lungren, spokesman for House Judiciary, said of why the bill was assigned to the Constitution subcommittee.

The House isn’t alone in resisting putting lobbyist reports online, however. Thirty years ago, when campaign finance laws were still relatively new, a proposal was discussed for creating a central Congressional records office.

Advocates of a one-stop shop argue costs would be much lower for a joint office, and lobbyists would almost certainly prefer to file in one place rather than two. And the source said that eliminating the “tremendous duplication” of dual reports would also serve another purpose: getting rid of the need to reconcile what are often different reports in each filed by the same lobbyist.

But the insider was dubious about such effort’s prospects.

“I don’t see anything going off that’s going to trigger something new. I always thought it would be the lobbyists, especially former Members, who would say, ‘This is stupid,’” the source said. “What we’ve seen in other states is that it’s been the regulated industry that has loved the disclosure of it. They want to know what their competition is doing.”