The public is invited to attend a panel discussion on federal rulemaking that will focus on the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Hosted by the Advisory Committee on Transparency, the event will take place on Monday, August 20 at 2:00 pm in the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2203.
OIRA reviews regulations that impose more than $100 million in annual compliance costs for affected industries, and its influence can extend to other rulemakings as well. With the imminent departure of OIRA's administrator, Cass Sunstein, the time is ripe to evaluate the Obama administration's approach to rulemaking, its transparency, and how OIRA should fit into the rulemaking process.
The panel of experts includes Susan Dudley, a former OIRA administrator under President Bush; Michael Fitzpatrick, a former associate administrator under President Obama; Curtis Copeland, a former specialist with the Congressional Research Service; and Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen. The panel will discuss OIRA's role in rulemakings, its evolution, its openness, congressional oversight, and where we can go from here.
The Advisory Committee on Transparency event originally scheduled for March 12th has been postponed until further notice due to last minute scheduling difficulties. Updates will be posted here as soon as they become available. You may also email act (at) sunlightfoundation.com if you would like to receive email updates about upcoming events.
The Advisory Committee on Transparency will host an event on legislative transparency and legislative branch appropriations on Monday, March 12th at 2:00 p.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2203. This event is particular timely as the House and Senate consider how much money to appropriate for important transparency programs.
The panel of experts will focus on rules changes that impact the level of transparency in the appropriations process. The discussion will also emphasize changes in funding for legislative branch support agencies and internal congressional processes that have implications for congressional transparency and legislative capacity.
Want to receive notices of future Advisory Committee on Transparency events or get involved? Email ACT@SunlightFoundation.com. Archives and more information about the Advisory Committee is available at http://transparencycaucus.org/
The Advisory Committee on Transparency educates policymakers on transparency-related issues, problems, and solutions and shares ideas with members of the Congressional Transparency Caucus. It hosts events to discuss important and wide-ranging transparency policy issues with experts from a variety of backgrounds and develops educational publications and provides timely information to the public and members of Congress. Learn more at http://transparencycaucus.org.
Super PACs were the subject of an event hosted by the Advisory Committee on Transparency in January 2012. The event addressed the history of super PACs, legal issues surrounding them, and their potential effect on elections.
Eliza Newlin Carney, a staff writer for CQ Roll Call and the journalist who coined the term super PAC, got the discussion started. She argued that campaign finance transparency has been eroding for some time, sparked by increased activism from non-profit organizations that don't have to disclose their donors. She outlined three specific issues that have emerged with the rise of super PACs: FEC disclosure regulations are incomplete, super PACs can delay reporting their donors, and super PACs can use affiliated non-profits to obscure the identity of their donors.
Mimi Marziani, Counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, explained how super PACs came to be. She detailed how the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision set the stage for non-coordinated independent expenditures by lifting the ban on direct corporate and union participation in elections. The subsequent Court of Appeals' Speech Now decision found that the government cannot restrict unlimited business and labor contributions for these expenditures. Together, the two decisions led to the creation of super PACs. Marziani highlighted three assumptions included in these decisions that she found troubling. First, that independent expenditures are non-corrupting. Second, that anti-coordination rules are sufficient to prevent actual coordination. Finally, that current disclosure requirements are sufficient to shine light on these new avenues for political spending.
Paul Ryan, FEC Program Director and Associate Legal Counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, picked up some of the threads started by Marziani. According to Ryan, 8 of 9 Supreme Court justices endorsed the central role of disclosure for the campaign finance system. But, he argued that some significant deficits in current disclosure rules exist. It is easy for super PACs to obscure the corporate role in elections by accepting donations from non-profits that are not required to disclose their donors. Additionally, Ryan blamed dysfunction among FEC commissioners for preventing needed regulations from being instituted. He pointed out legislation, the DISCLOSE Act, which narrowly failed to pass through congress in 2010, and the SUPERPAC Act proposed by the Sunlight Foundation, that could solve some of these problems.
Allen Dickerson, Legal Director and Interim Executive Director of the Center for Competitive Politics, approached the topic with a different perspective. He argued that since super PACs already have to follow the same reporting rules as traditional PACs, more disclosure is not necessary. He then suggested that smaller donations are not particularly noteworthy and do not need to be subject to disclosure. Dickerson also took time to push against Paul Ryan's suggestion that super PACs would use non-profits to obscure their donors, calling the required process “inefficient”.
The event ended with a question and answer section that sparked an engaging discussion and pushed the panelists on a number of issues. They talked about the possibility that non-profits will be used to obscure donors, the level of coordination that is actually allowed between super PACs and candidates, and the practical effect that super PACs may have on the 2012 elections.
The Advisory Committee on Transparency will present a discussion on super PAC transparency as we move toward the 2012 elections on Monday, January 23 at 2:15 p.m. in Rayburn 2203.
Update: C-SPAN's live video of the event is available here
Super PACs have fundamentally changed the relationship between money and politics, and all too often are misunderstood. These new vehicles for political advocacy have upended traditional political alliances, infused tremendous amounts of undisclosed (or partially disclosed) money into the political system, and kicked off controversies over what our 21st century democracy should look like.
We are pleased to present the preeminent experts who will discuss what the public knows -- and should know -- about Super PACs, including the reporter who coined the term “Super PAC” and leading advocates on both sides of the transparency question. We will explore the legal limits of what can be disclosed about Super PACs, and the policy questions around what the public has a right to know.
Eliza Newlin Carney: Staff Writer for CQ Roll Call covering the issues of lobbying and influence
Allen Dickerson: Legal Director and Interim Executive Director of the Center for Competitive Politics
Mimi Marziani: Counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law
Paul Ryan: FEC Program Director and Associate Legal Counsel at the Campaign Legal Center
Daniel Schuman: Policy Counsel at the Sunlight Foundation and Director of the Advisory Committee on Transparency
For the full biographies of our speakers, please click here. You may also visit the event page for additional information about this event.
Last Thursday the Congessional Transparency Caucus, co-chaired by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Mike Quigley (D-IL), held a roundtable conversation to discuss important transparency initiatives. Topics included lobbying oversight, access to Congressional documents and CRS reports, the DATA Act, the debt and deficit, the Super Committee, among other things. While the event was cut short by floor votes, it still covered a lot of ground, including an opportunity for the public to ask questions of the Representatives.
Whistleblowing was the subject of an event hosted by the Advisory Committee on Transparency in July 2011. The discussion focused on reforming current law and finding ways to encourage and protect federal whistleblowers. In the end there was consensus that federal whistleblower protections must be strengthened, whistleblowing must be encouraged, and government must change the way that it handles reports of fraud and abuse. Whistleblowers serve an important role in protecting worker safety, improving government efficiency, and saving taxpayer money.
Carolyn Lerner, the recently confirmed head of the Office of Special Counsel, led off the discussion, describing OSC as providing a safe channel for federal government employees to report waste. Before Lerner’s confirmation the OSC had gone through turbulent times and been without Senate-confirmed leadership for two and a half years. Lerner made clear that her goal was to bring the OSC back into good standing. She stressed that employees are the best way to identify waste and fraud and save the government money and time, and encouraged Congress to pass a strong whistleblower protection law.
The next speaker was Angela Canterbury, director of public policy for the Project on Government Oversight. She stressed that a serious discussion about government waste requires talking about making whistleblowing work. She suggested financial incentives as a way to make whistleblowing more appealing, using the False Claims Act as an example. The act allows citizens to file a claim when they know the government is being “ripped off” and has helped the government save around $22 billion since 1987. Canterbury concluded by noting that Congress has taken important steps to protect whistleblowers in the private sector; the same must be done for their federal counterparts.
Christian Sanchez, a federal whistleblower and the third panelist, made very clear that many federal whistleblowers face reprisals at work and the potential for prosecution. Sanchez, an agent with Customs Border Protection, never thought he would be a whistleblower. But he spoke up when his station, located in a low incident area along the northern border, expanded even though there was not enough work to go around. Retaliation included interrogation, harassment at work and home, and loss of duties.
The final panelist was Micah Sifry, a senior technology adviser to Sunlight Foundation, who underlined calls for robust funding of whistleblower protections and agencies dedicated to rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse. His remarks focused on ways that the internet and social media are changing how information is shared, revealed, and used. He argued that governments need to accept that there are many things they will no longer be able to hide. We are entering an age of mass participation that will see more citizen oversight of government. Government, Sifry argued, should be focused on embracing this new way of life instead of resisting it.
The event was moderated by Daniel Schuman, Director of the Advisory Committee on Transparency, and emphasized the importance of federal whistleblowers and ways to promote a more robust whistleblowing culture.
Thank you to Policy Fellow Matt Rumsey for writing this summary of the event.
Last month the Advisory Committee on Transparency hosted a panel discussion entitled “The Hidden Budget: Tax Expenditures,” where a panel of experts explored how tax subsidies fit into the federal budget. Tax expenditures are much harder to define and monitor than traditional government spending such as contracts and grants, and the panelists discussed ways to make this form of spending a more transparent part of the budget process...
In a fiscal climate where every penny counts, one-quarter of this year's federal budget went to tax breaks known as “tax expenditures,” amounting to around 1 trillion dollars. Compared to traditional government spending through contracts and grants, tax expenditures are harder to track, subject to less congressional oversight, and caught up in ideological debates over definitions.
The Advisory Committee on Transparency is a private-sector organization and complies with all House and Senate rules. It is separate and distinct from the Congressional Transparency Caucus, a Congressional Member Organization. The Advisory Committee on Transparency is a project of the Sunlight Foundation.