W.Va. Ethics Commission in No Hurry to Post Lobbying Data Online
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By Steven Allen Adams
West Virginia’s lobbying data could go online after 2011 according to a report from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Not a moment too soon, since the same report says a Freedom of Information Act request for lobbying disclosure reports could cost you as much as $500.
The National Institute on Money in State Politics released a “50-State Assessment of Lobbying Expenditure Data” Tuesday. The report is a comprehensive look at lobbying laws, the agencies that enforce lobbyist laws, the types of disclosures, and how that information is available.
“Lobbying is an accepted part of a representative democracy, when effectively regulated and transparent,” said Linda King with the institute. “In pursuit of more transparent government, the National Institute on Money in State Politics is pioneering a thorough assessment of the great variety of regulations, availability, and quality of state lobbying expenditure data in all 50 states. The Institute’s ultimate goal is to create the nation’s first 50-state searchable database of lobbying expenditures, and to make that data available online for free.”
West Virginia Code requires disclosure anyone who receives compensation for lobbying or who spends money a public servant to disclose their expenditures. Also grassroots organizations must register if they spend more than $200 in a month or $500 in a three-month period. Lobbyist must file activity reports every four months. While lobbyists supply client information, clients don’t file reports and lobbyists don’t have to list their compensation.
The West Virginia Ethics Commissions is responsible for registering lobbyists, collecting and maintaining reports, and enforcing lobbyist laws. Currently the Ethics Commission still operates in the world of paper. While reporting forms are online for lobbyists to download, all reports are mailed in and no lobbying activity or expenditures are available online, though the institutes report says the Ethics Commission plans to roll out online reporting by the end of 2011.
The Ethics Commission, according to the report, isn’t as certain about putting lobbyist data online, saying there may be search capabilities after 2011. The only thing the Ethics Commission makes available online is the list of lobbyists and clients. If a citizen wants to see the lobbyist reports, they either need to go to the Ethics Commission’s Charleston, W.Va., office or file a Freedom of Information Act Request.
That’s what the institute had to do, though since there is no way to know which reports have been filed, they had to file a FOIA request for all documents from the year. The Ethics Commission charges 10 cents per page plus $10 an hour for personnel costs. After the institute filed a FOIA for the data the Ethics Commission sent them 1,800 pages of records, costing $500 with postage.
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