WAMU 88.5 : News

Filed Under:

D.C. Lobbying Disclosures Of Limited Use To Watchdogs

Play associated audio
It's difficult to track the activities of lobbyists at the Wilson Building in real-time.
Larry Miller: http://www.flickr.com/photos/drmillerlg/1246397248/
It's difficult to track the activities of lobbyists at the Wilson Building in real-time.

The District is out with its lobbying report for the year, the required lists detailing which lobbyists met with which politicians. From fights over Pepco and Walmart expansion to speed cameras and sports teams, lobbyists had a busy first of half of 2012. They raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees and visited with lawmakers and staff nearly 1,900 times, according to the report.

Greasing the wheels

The records can be great at showing some of the arm-twisting that went on behind the scenes at the Wilson Building.

One example is the proposal to place huge, high-definition billboards outside the Verizon Center. Records show a furious lobbying effort last month by a company run by Ted Leonsis, the owner of the Verizon Center as well as the Wizards and Capitals. The company's lobbyists met with lawmakers and staff 65 times last month, and apparently it paid off. Emergency legislation passing 12-0 to ensuring these revenue-producing billboards will be up by the fall, when the teams begin their seasons.

Among the highlights from the report: Council member Yvette Alexander had the most lobbied office by far, with more than 160 visits over the first half of the year. The offices of members Jack Evans and Mary Cheh finished second and third.

Among the lowlights: the sloppy bookkeeping by lobbyists and the city's Office of Campaign Finance — one entry from a labor union, for example, dated by Feb. 3, shows the group met with "BLAH-BLAH."

Disclosures don't shed much light

But in terms of actual usefulness for members of the public and the media, D.C.'s lobbying records are more like autopsy reports than check-ups. That's because the District government releases its lobbying reports only twice a year, and often right around the time the busy legislative season is wrapping up.

"What happens is you don't get the detailed information until often after a vote or after they are in recess when it's too late to do anything about it," says Lisa Rosenberg, with the government watchdog group the Sunlight Foundation. She says the District could do much better when it comes to lobbying transparency.

Infrequent lobbying reports makes it nearly impossible for voters and journalists to make connections between lobbying and campaign contributions and fundraising activities.

Take registered lobbyist David Wilmot. Wilmot has served as a personal lawyer for one council member and served as the campaign finance chairperson for another council member. Records show Wilmot, who was paid by Walmart, Anheuser-Busch, AT&T and other companies, met with lawmakers and staff more than 150 times this year.

"And again, if only you have only semi-annual reports you can't connect all of those dots and find out who is really pulling those influence levels," says Rosenberg.

So far, the city has no plans to update its disclosure requirements.


New Head For Jesus Statue Is, Uh, Turning Heads In Canada

Last year, baby Jesus' head went missing from a statue at a church in northern Ontario. A local artist volunteered to help and sculpted a terra cotta substitute that has caused some consternation.

In Jerusalem And West Bank, Nutella Cafes Offer A Sweet Refuge

Palestinians are flocking to a string of Nutella cafés that have popped up in the region. The cafes offer a welcome refuge from the realities of living in a conflict zone.

Clinton Campaigns In Ohio Where She's In A Virtual Tie With Trump

Hillary Clinton campaigned in Ohio Friday.

Tiny Vessels Make Much Noise: Listen To Ants As They Walk

The everyday ant seldom gets close enough to a microphone to be amplified and heard but 'The World According to Sound' podcast manages to let us listen to the insects as they go about their day.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.