More Transparency, Please, in Lobbyist Registrations

Lobbyists spent a record $15.4 million courting legislators at the General Assembly last year, easily surpassing the previous record of $13.6 million set two years ago, reports Tyler Whitley with the Richmond Times-Dispatch. (The numbers run from May 1 through April 30, so they do not include the impact of the extended session.)

As sad as it is to contemplate the increase in rent-seeking activity in the state Capitol, I found this even more depressing: “The reports are not computerized. They are filed in cardboard boxes in … the Patrick Henry Building.”

Now, go to the Lobbyist Registration Database. The database purports to be maintained through Feb. 7, 2006, which is hardly what you would call up to date. That means that registration data covering the most recent General Assembly session — with a filing deadline more than three months ago — still is not in the system.

Thus, you can conduct a search on, say, Verizon Virginia for the 2005-2006 year and get the following results: Verizon lobbyist George E. Murphy Jr. reporting zero lobbying expenditures — even though Verizon in fact lobbied very heavily to open up Virginia cable franchises to competition. We get two more goose eggs for William G. Thomas and Maureen Stinger at Dominion Virginia Power, and ditto for the legion of lobbyists for the Virginia Education Association. Not terribly helpful.

If I might be so bold as to make a suggestion: It would cause no more burden upon the lobbyists to fill out the required information electronically than it does to fill out a paper form. But the electronic data could be easily and instantaneously entered into the lobbyist database, where it could be made immediately available to the public. The programming required to create such a form would be negligible — indeed, the effort might well pay for itself simply by saving the cost of manually transferring the data from paper to computer.

How about it, Katherine Hanley, secretary of the commonwealth?

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3 responses to “More Transparency, Please, in Lobbyist Registrations”

  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    $15m is a lot of shrimp cocktail. I dunno what the statewide political parties report (their public figures should speak for themselves) – but I think the number for one party was to raise and spend a fifth of that number in the last election cycle. The lobby money goes mostly to the candidates directly.

  2. anonymous pseudonym Avatar
    anonymous pseudonym

    Great idea, but i dont see it happening any time soon. Here’s an example of why: To request so much as a new email acount for a new employee at some of the state agencies, a paperwork form is filled out, printed, then faxed to the the service provider. Not a web form. Not even emailed. Printed and faxed. Note, this was the case when i was involved in the process a year or so back, i can’t fully claim it still is.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Five questions that should be raised for any government program:

    (1) How much would it cost?

    (2) What are the tangible benefits?

    (3) How would it be paid for?

    (4) What other government functions would be de-emphasized in order to accomodate this initiative?

    (5) What are the opportunity costs from changing the priorities?

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