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Power Breakfast: Lobbying And Its Lack Of Transparency

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Daniel Schuman is Policy Counsel at the aptly named Sunlight Foundation.

"We sort of wondered - looking at the entire info ecosystem, what's going on with lobbying?" he explains.

Shuman says those who make a living shedding light on the workings of government start with a straightforward principle: "It's useful to have a good understanding of what's going on."

When it comes to identifying, mapping and tracking influence in Washington, we really don't know what's going on. Schuman is director of the Advisory Committee on Transparency, which is holding a public forum this afternoon on the Hill with a panel of experts from the separate but co-dependent worlds of watch-dogging, journalism and, of course, K Street.

There are some practical reform targets to consider. According to Schuman, one of those is the so-called "20-percent lobbying rule."

"The 20% lobbying rule is basically, for me to have to become a federally regulated lobbyist, I have to make at least two contacts with a covered official and spend at least 20% of my time lobbying," Schuman says.

Lots of people who actively lobby Congress don't meet that definition; so lots of lobbying activity goes on outside the regulatory framework.

Schuman says watchdog and industry groups alike also think disclosure requirements should be increased. Is there any risk of becoming so thoroughly inundated with information and disclosures that the act of influence-peddling can simply 'hide in plain sight'?

"I wish we were somewhere near that end of the problem, Schuman says. "Unfortunately we're all the way at the other side of the problem. For example, you can track lobbying by firm, but you can't track it by individual. I cannot tell who they're meeting with, and it's very difficult to know the issues on which they're reporting with any level of detail."

For all the widespread distrust of Washington, there is only one way to know how justified it is.

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