More than a million spectators gathered before the Capitol on a frosty January afternoon to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama, who promised in his campaign to change Washington’s mercenary culture of lobbyists, special interest influence and backroom deals. But within a few months of being sworn in, the President and his top aides were sitting down with leaders from the pharmaceutical industry to hash out a deal that they thought would make health care reform possible.
Over the following months, pharmaceutical industry lobbyists and executives met with top White House aides dozens of times to hammer out a deal that would secure industry support for the administration's health care reform agenda in exchange for the White House abandoning key elements of the president's promises to reform the pharmaceutical industry. They flooded Congress with campaign contributions, and hired dozens of former Capitol Hill insiders to push their case. How they did it—pieced together from news accounts, disclosure forms including lobbying reports and Federal Election Commission records, White House visitor logs and the schedule Sen. Max Baucus releases voluntarily—is a testament to how ingrained the grip of special interests remains in Washington.
In the 2008 campaign, Obama declared his intention to include all stakeholders as he sought to reform the nation's health care system, but also supported key Democratic health reform policies. Among these were several that targeted the pharmaceutical industry: Allowing re-importation of drugs from first world countries with lower drug prices and providing Medicare with negotiating authority over prescription drug prices in the recently enacted Part D program. These weren't just promises, Obama had already voted for both of them as a senator in 2007. (Roll Call Vote 132 and Roll Call Vote 150.)
Set to carry out this agenda were two Capitol Hill veterans, schooled in the monied Washington culture, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and deputy chief of staff Jim Messina. Emanuel was a former fundraiser, Clinton administration official, investment banker and member of the Democratic leadership in Congress. Messina was the former campaign manager and chief of staff to the powerful Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus. Both were known for their unparalleled legislative abilities.
Last week, Jake wrote that "it is utterly imperative that the final version of the bill be online for the public to view for at least 72 hours." The House Majority just announced that they will do just that (via #HealthReformNow):
Pelosi and Hoyer say final health reform bill will be online for 72 hours before House vote so Members and Americans can review #hcr
This is a great development and another big win for those who have called for the bill to be available to the public for 72 hours throughout this whole process. The Sunlight Foundation has called for the health care bill to be available to the public for 72 hours at each point that versions have come to the floor. In each of these instances the majority has acquiesced and posted each version, from the House bill to the Senate bill, for at least 72 hours prior to consideration. Those of you who have signed the Read the Bill petition and put the pressure on Congress to be this transparent have been vital in ensuring that we have access to this major bill before lawmakers consider, debate and vote on it. Earlier this week, Ellen explained the importance of the 72 hour requirement:
Think of posting something on line for 3 days as a ‘safety valve’ – a final chance for citizens, media, lawmakers and lobbyists alike to look at the whole package giving everyone one last opportunity to raise questions and concerns about the bill. If readers are in an advocacy mode they have time to mobilize others in support or opposition, and/or take action in whatever form they see fit. There is no measure more important to debate in the open than health care, and this is a moment when we all need to be champions for public, online disclosure and engage with our government. With 72 hours, the buck can actually stop with citizens the way our Founders intended. We know that Congress do it because congressional leadership has already done so at other critical points in this debate.
Of course, we still need to make sure that this promise is kept and that won't be done until the bill has been online for 72 hours and then brought to the floor. Let's keep it up.
We've got some new data to munch on today that we're excited about. Essentially, this new data helps show us that when lobbyists from a special interest - in this first case, the health care industry - meet with our representatives, many lobbyists represent much more than just the contributions attributed to them if we were to look them up.
It's important we know lobbyists' REAL influence on the people we elect to represent us - and before today, that's not something we could really do.
The deal is that decision makers (i.e. senators) in the health care debate are not only receiving big bucks from members of the health and insurance industries - but also from the numerous individual lobbyists that represent the industries. All of that money "clustered" or "bundled" together is much more influential than any contribution by itself. So, when one of the lobbyists in a cluster walks into a meeting with a representative, it stands to reason that representative listens to them ...how do we say... with a more fully tuned ear.
<!--more-->As citizens holding government accountable, another way to think about this new information is that while yesterday you may have looked up a lobbyist online and seen only that the individual had contributed a couple hundred dollars to a senator, you can now see the entire 'bundle' of contributions around that lobbyist or company which can total in the tens of thousands. MUCH more 'influence' than what was previously reflected.
Larry Makinson, one of Sunlight's senior fellows that led our investigation probably said it best: "When we saw a dozen, two dozen, even three dozen lobbyists for a single company giving to the same members as their clients, we were frankly stunned."
And we should be.
We should know who is exerting the most influence on the men and women we elect (and pay) to represent us, and we should know what that influence is about so we can make sure our voice is heard as well - but so far, we haven't been able to see that influence represented with real data.
While we have been able to go online and track some of how special interests have contributed to our representatives thanks to OpenSecrets.org - what we've had access to is only part of the story.
Through our month-long investigation in partnership with OpenSecrets.org, our investigators uncovered never-before-seen webs of campaign contributions from outside lobbyists and their clients to key members of Congress involved in the health care debate.
Again, visibly suggesting that special interest giving is strongly enhanced by the K Street contributors they hire - and of course showing just how much influence these groups have.
Standing out, as usual, in our first examination is Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, and author of the main health care reform bill now being debated in the Senate. He is, not surprisingly, one of the biggest beneficiaries of this one-two punch from the lobbyists and their clients. From January 2007 through June 2009, Baucus collected contributions from 37 outside lobbyists representing PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry's chief trade association, and 36 lobbyists who listed drug maker Amgen Inc. as their client.
In all, 11 major health and insurance firms had their contributions to Baucus boosted through extra donations from 10 or more of their outside lobbyists. When you click on this visualization, you can see that the combined contributions of a group like Amgen is much larger than the company contribution alone.
You can see our full list here. In total - which you can see broken down in our animation above - Max Baucus has received more than $453,000 from the health care industry - or 20% of his cash on hand. How would that affect your decision if you were debating an issue?
In many ways it boils down to this: information regarding who is meeting with whom, who is receiving money from whom - who is having influence on whom - on Capitol Hill should be public information.
To us, "public" means that information is placed online in as close to real time as possible - allowing all of us to hold our elected officials accountable. We're not there yet - or really even close - but we're working on it, and this health care data is just the first in a series we'll be releasing around this new way of looking at special interests and their 'real' influence.
Stay tuned and thank you for helping us shine the light!
(Full Disclosure I am the Online Organizer and Outreach Coordinator for the Sunlight Foundation. Email me if you have any questions nthompson(at)sunlightfoundation(dot)com)
Reps. Baird and Culberson introduced legislation today that would shine more sunlight on the most fundamental work of Congress. Their bill, H. Res. 554, would require that all non-emergency legislation be posted online, in its final form, 72 hours before consideration. The bill is not a panacea for all that ails Congress, but if enacted, it will stave off many congressionally created debacles before they become law.
Most citizens, for example, would have supported amending the economic stimulus bill to remove the provision allowing AIG executives to receive retroactive bonuses. The average person probably would have preferred to let the judicial system work rather than have Congress give immunity from lawsuits to telecommunications companies that participated in a controversial wiretapping scheme. Workers hoping to retire on their 401(k) investments might have liked to have some serious analysis of whether credit default swaps ought to be regulated. And just about everyone benefit from a check on questionable and wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.
We welcome the Sunlight Foundation for a post on S. 482, which would end the antiquated practice of Senators submitting their campaign finance forms to the Secretary of the Senate, and escaping the kind of easily searchable electronic disclosure required of House and Presidential candidates. -Patrick
The Senate is not required to file their campaign finance reports with the FEC electronically. The Sunlight Foundation believes these reports should be online in a as soon as possible so people can see who is contributing to candidates’ coffers before Election Day. Earlier this year Sen. Feingold introduced Senate Bill 482, the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act would require the Senate to file their campaign donation forms electronically. To build support for this bill we launched the Pass 482 campaign to get senators to understand how important it is for them to file their reports electronically so we the people can see them in a timely manner. Right now the Senate can file on paper, which has to be sent to the FEC, and then the paper copies are sent to a company to be entered into a computer. This is a waste of time and money. The House, presidential candidates, and PACs have had to file electronically for 10 years the Senate should not be an exception.
This bill has no public opposition, and has 28 cosponsors. However, we want to build support for the bill because Sen. Pat Roberts from Kansas is rumored to want to add an amendment to this bill that would require organizations filing ethics complaints against senators to disclose their donors. This amendment has nothing to do with electronic filing and should be a stand alone bill and would block that passage of this non controversial bill.
Please call your senators and ask them to support S. 482. It’s time transparency is taken seriously by the Senate. This is a concrete step that can make it easier for everyone to get important information to voters.
I’m the online organizer for the Sunlight Foundation.
The Sunlight Foundation is a non-partisan non-profit dedicated to using the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency.
Can you read and comprehend a 451 page bill in under 24 hours? No.Well, then you probably wouldn't want to be a member of Congress right now. The Senate just released their 451-page version of the Wall Street bailout bill and expect members to vote tonight. If our elected representatives are going to be tossing hundreds of billions of dollars around, the least they can do is read what their passing.
If you care about your representatives reading and understanding this legislation before they walk down that aisles of the Senate chamber for their "Yeas" and "Nays" please join the Sunlight Foundation in their petition to urge congressmen to allow a full 72 hours period to pass before a vote is held on the bill. A bill of this magnitude requires 72 hours for the public and their elected representatives to understand, discuss, and debate the myriad proposals squashed into one bill.
The Sunlight Foundation has long been a supporter of requiring all legislation to be posted online for at least 72 hours prior to a vote.
In support of this ideal, Sunlight has also posted copies of all of the proposed legislation to PublicMarkup.org, where the legislation is available for public review and comment. The current is Senate bill will be up for comment before the Senate votes today.
The current bailout legislation is only one example in the egregious practice of passing bills that have barely seen the light of day before votes have been cast. Just last week, a 1,000+ page continuing resolution, costing $630 billion, passed the House within a day of its introduction. Earlier this year, the Farm Bill, totaling a whopping 1,700+ pages, slipped through the House in under 24 hours. The Farm Bill was introduced on May 22nd and passed on May 22nd.
At some point the public has to stand up and demand that our lawmakers know what on earth they're voting for. Now seems an appropriate time.
Join in asking your member of Congress to read this massive bill before they cast their vote. Let the bill be public for 72 hours!
As news spreads that a consensus Wall Street bailout plan is being finalized, and leaders negotiate between proposals submitted from the Treasury Department, Senator Dodd, Representative Markey, and others, two separate conversations are taking place. One is public, as the nation struggles to evaluate the urgency of the economic situation, and to understand the best course of action. The other, however, is not public, as the compromises and deal making — the real stuff of urgent policy-making — are held in the dark.
The Sunlight Foundation is calling on Congress to publish the proposed bailout legislation as soon as possible, to give constituents and lawmakers themselves as much time as possible to examine the specifics of the proposal before it’s voted on. We will post the draft legislation to PublicMarkup.org as soon as possible, to give citizens a chance to weigh in on the proposal’s specifics.
Congress faces urgent pressure from the Administration and from constituents to act. Regardless of the course of action Congress ultimately chooses, this is a decision that must be made in full public view. If citizens don’t have a chance to evaluate the legislation, how can Congress possibly represent their constituents’ needs?
The need for sunlight is especially required for urgent or emergency legislation. All too often, Congress praises transparency as a democratic value, but violates it in practice. Any lack of transparency in consideration of this legislation would be especially ironic since lawmakers have blamed the current crisis on financial malfeasance that was hidden from public view.
We have called the relevant congressional committees and have asked for copies of the new consensus legislation. As soon we get it, we’ll be posting the text of the legislation online at PublicMarkup.org.
Now more than ever, Congress must represent the needs of all Americans, and to give everyone - citizens and lawmakers alike — a chance to participate actively in the legislative process.
Before the bailout proposal is considered by lawmakers, it must undergo an even more important test: evaluation and assessment by the public.
Congress is moving rapidly to enact a gigantic taxpayer bailout of the financial sector, with a potential cost of $700 billion or more than $2,000 per American citizen. We believe, as Justice Brandeis said, that “Sunlight is the best of disinfectants,” and that all legislation ought to be open to public comment and consideration in real-time, not just after the fact.
(Promoted by Soren. We feel very strongly about transparency. I have talked to one office who has not co-sponsored this who clearly should. Simply no one had talked to them. Ping your Senators or offices you know. They will respond. This is such a no brainer about entering the 21st century)
Today, the Sunlight Foundation launched a new web site, Pass223.com, to harness the distributed power of the Internet to pressure the Senate into increasing disclosure of campaign contributions by passing a bill - S. 223, the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act - requiring senators to file their contribution reports electronically.
We need your help to pass this bill. Please follow the link to Pass223.com and call your senators to find out where they stand on S. 223. The site has full instructions on who your senators are, how to call, what to say, and how to report back to us. For more detail on the bill, keep reading.
Currently, presidential candidates and candidates running for the House of Representatives file their campaign contributions in electronic form. Electronic filing speeds the process by which campaign contribution data reaches the public over the Internet, allowing citizens and journalists to more easily spot a conflict of interest or an inappropriate contribution. Filers in the Senate do not file electronically, delaying disclosure by weeks and possibly months.
Passage of S. 223 appears to be a “no-brainer,” and isn’t publicly opposed by any senator. However, at every step of the way over the past year and a half the bill has been interrupted and blocked for a variety of reasons.
Right now, Sen. John Ensign is blocking the bill by insisting on adding a poison pill amendment. This poisin pill is meant to protect senators from legitimate ethics complaints filed by outside groups. The amendment would impose an unconstitutional burden on on charities, religious organizations and other nonprofits by forcing them to disclose their donors when they file ethics complaints against sitting senators. Ensign’s amendment is opposed by a group of non-profits, religious groups, and charities from the right and the left.
For S. 223 to pass, Ensign’s amendment must be defeated. And to do that, we need you help in identifying senators who OPPOSE Ensign and SUPPORT S. 223. This is a great chance to help pass a long overdue bill.
Go to Pass223.com and get started calling your senators (remember, you have two of them). Don’t forget to report back so that we know where these senators stand on increasing campaign finance disclosure.
Pass223.com is a joint project of the Sunlight Foundation, Public Citizen, Public Campaign, Center for Responsive Politics, Campaign Finance Institute, Change Congress, and Open the Government.
(Disclaimer: I am the Online Organizer for the Sunlight Foundation)
In response to the ongoing controversey regarding members' of Congress use of the internet the Sunlight Foundation launched Let Our Congress Tweet! Help us tell Congress to "embrace the communication technologies that we already use" like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and MySpace. If you're on twitter I hope you sign our petition to show Congress that there is no reason our elected officials can't communicate with us where we are!
On the site, you can watch who's tweeting to sign the petition. This kind of grassroots feedback to Congress has the potential to create real change.
If you want more information on franking rules check out Sunlight's Open House Project. The Open House Project is a group of people who wrote a report to find ways to make Congress more technologically open and accessible to the public. If you want to know more about the franking rules check out the chapter on Member Use Restrictions here.
Full Disclosure: I am the Online Organizer and Outreach Coordinator for the Sunlight Foundation.