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Reforming Lobbying via the JAMES Database

- June 20, 2011

bq. This paper argues that high-handed moralizing about lobbying misses the point: Lobbyists are not inherently corrupting, nor does their primary influence stem from some devilish power to automatically compel legislative outcomes through campaign contributions and/or personal connections, as is commonly believed. Rather, their influence comes from their ability to become an essential part of the policymaking process by flooding understaffed, under-experienced, and overworked congressional offices with enough information and expertise to help shape their thinking…

bq. …This paper proposes a simple, cost-effective solution: The Library of Congress should create a website that will become the de facto online forum and clearinghouse for all public policy advocacy. Such a website would both level the playing field (it is much cheaper to post a web page than to hire an army of lobbyists to descend on Washington) and increase transparency and accountability (if all positions and arguments are public, everyone knows who is lobbying for what and why). This will result in more democratic and more thoroughly vetted public policy.

From a new Brookings paper by Lee Drutman.  He suggests that the website be called JAMES in reference to Madison and to parallel the existing THOMAS.  Here is another analogy:

bq. One way to think about JAMES is as a modern variation on notice-and-comment rulemaking for the legislative process. Under the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act (APA), federal agencies were required to open up administrative rulemakings to transparent public comment. Proposed rules are now published in the Federal Register and anyone can submit a comment.

And, yes, Lee is naturally aware that convincing lobbyists to participate will be a challenge.  Here is one way to encourage them:

bq. A more likely way for it to take hold is for a few early adopter congressional offices to signal that they will only seriously entertain lobbying and constituent opinion that comes through JAMES. The rationale for this could be simple: “If you can’t make a public case for your position, we aren’t interested in talking to you.”

More is here (pdf).