When it comes to American politics, nowhere has ethics been needed more. This is CREW's mission, to expose unethical conduct and decisions in Washington.
Big Step for Public Access to Legislation
Earlier today, the House of Representatives' Appropriations Committee made a major move towards improving public access to legislative information. In layman's terms, the committee said that by the beginning of the next Congress information about the disposition of bills—where they are in the legislative process and who authored or co-sponsored the legislation—will be published in a way that computers can easily process, and thus can be easily reused by apps and websites.
Americans access legislative information through third-party sites. This change in publication policy will help guarantee that accurate, timely, and complete legislative information is directly available from the official source. Congress already publishes the text of legislation in a structured format that is downloadable in bulk.
The committee specifically directed the Clerk of the House to work with the Librarian of Congress and the Public Printer to publish bill status information for bulk data downloads by the beginning of the next congress. This has been a long-standing request of the public interest community and was the subject of a recent letter sent by CREW and GovTrack.us on behalf of the newly formed Congressional Data Coalition.
The report language came at the behest of Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), who recommended the committee adopt this language in its report. His recommendation was the culmination of many years of hard work by legislative transparency advocates in both parties, including (but not limited to) Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Mike Honda (D-CA), and Ander Crenshaw (R-FL).
In June 2012, Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, and then-Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ander Crenshaw issued a letter on the occasion of the establishment of a Legislative Bulk Data Task Force charged with looking into improved public access to legislative information, stating "our goal is to provide bulk access to legislative information the American people without further delay." Rep. Issa had offered an amendment to put that requirement into law, but withdrew it pending the report of the Task Force. In its December 2013 report, the Task Force recommended "that it be a priority for Legislative Branch agencies to publish legislative information in XML and provide bulk access to that data." While the issue was not raised during the recent Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearings, Ranking Member Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) singled out Rep. Quigley at the full committee hearing for making the recommendation.
With the report language in the final committee report, it is unclear what additional action, if any, is necessary to put it into effect. The House Appropriations Committee has tremendous sway over legislative branch agencies, who may spring to comply even in the absence of floor action in the House. The Senate, in its own committee report, may not address the issue (thus perhaps giving tacit approval) or may expressly agree or disagree to bulk publication of bill status information. Indeed, the Senate's Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee is still reviewing its appropriation bill, having met just yesterday.
Regardless, today's action in the House is a significant win for transparency. Public interest advocates have been fighting for bulk access to legislative information at least since May 2007, and the House has now put its full weight on the side of legislative transparency.
Here is the report language:
The Committee request that the Clerk of the House, the Librarian of Congress and the Public Printer work together to make available to the public through Congress.gov or FDsys bulk data downloads of bill status by the beginning of the next Congress.
Pentagon Failing To Keep Track of The Revolving Door
The Department of Defense (DOD) is failing to retain all records of ethics opinions sought by senior defense officials looking to move from public service into the defense industry, according to a new report by the DOD’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). In other words, the DOD is not adequately tracking the Pentagon’s revolving door as it is required to do by law.
As CREW has previously detailed, in 2008, Congress passed legislation requiring senior defense officials and senior acquisition officials who meet certain criteria to request guidance from ethics officials before accepting compensation from a defense contractor. The law also required the DOD to keep those opinions in a centralized database.
The OIG, which is tasked with periodically reviewing DOD’s compliance with the law, found the department had not retained all of the required records in its centralized database and, subsequently, “may not have fully complied with the intent of the law.” In particular, the OIG found that records that should have been in the database were instead held in “multiple and decentralized locations.” The OIG reported that the DOD’s Office of General Counsel Standards of Conduct Office believed the Secretary of Defense didn’t have central authority to oversee compliance with the 2008 law and that it was acceptable to keep the records in multiple locations. The General Counsel’s office acknowledged “multiple databases or repositories maintained by the various individual components” of the DOD did not constitute compliance with the 2008 law only after the OIG completed its investigation. DOD’s failure to adequately retain the records meant the OIG was unable to provide the House Armed Services Committee information regarding how many ethics opinions had been issued or retained.
The OIG report also shines light on data the DOD released to CREW in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. After more than a year of litigation, the DOD provided CREW with a database containing information about ethics opinions sought by 379 senior defense officials between January 2012 and May 2013, with names, ranks, and other potentially identifying information omitted. The OIG conducted its own analysis of the information from that time period and found several organizations with “substantial contracting activity” were underrepresented, suggesting the database provided to CREW was missing some required records. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) were singled out as having “limited or no activity.” The database contained no records, in fact, from the NSA.
When OIG followed up with ethics officials at the NSA, they claimed the NSA was not required to provide its ethics opinions to the central DOD database because of a separate law allowing the surveillance agency to keep information about its personnel secret. Officials from the DLA, on the other hand, said they had thought use of the database had been placed “on hold” and that they would immediately beginning using it.
A spokesman for the Pentagon told Stars and Stripes that the DOD was working to address the department’s record-keeping failures, but claimed that the rest of ethics program was “operating effectively.” Without adequate retention of records though there is no way to know if that program actually is effective. As Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) noted, it is troublesome that the DOD “is willfully ignoring Congressional intent and not following the letter of the law to address the American public’s concerns about the revolving door between the Pentagon and defense contractors.” Since the revolving door is unlikely to stop spinning anytime soon, the Pentagon needs to at least get its act together and enforce the rules currently on the books.
Anti-Union Berman Group Hires Lobbyist to Push Bill Aimed at Undermining Unions
When Rick Berman’s anti-union front group, the Center for Union Facts (CUF), needed to hire a lobbyist, Mr. Berman didn’t look in-house to his for-profit PR firm — despite the fact that he is known as a “life-time lobbyist.” Instead, Jenna Morgan Hamilton of The Hamilton Group, LLC, registered last month as CUF’s lobbyist. Ms. Hamilton, the former lead lobbyist on labor issues for the National Association of Home Builders, will lobby both the House and the Senate on the Employee Rights Act, legislation put together by Mr. Berman to undermine organized labor.
Years ago, CUF likely would have had Mr. Berman or one of his employees do the lobbying. Indeed, Mr. Berman once bragged about his consulting firm, Berman and Company, telling a reporter, “We are the biggest lobbyists in America for the hospitality industry.” At the end of 2007, however, Berman and Company terminated its lobbying registrations, seemingly stepping away from that aspect of the influence industry. It is unknown why, exactly, the company deregistered from lobbying then, though the timing coincides with the implementation of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, which increased the reporting requirements for lobbyists.
Now, Mr. Berman runs away from the lobbyist label as fast as he can. A website set up to defend Berman and Company’s reputation reads, “Neither Rick Berman nor anyone on his staff are registered lobbyists. In the past, Rick or other staff members have been registered lobbyists for restaurants or other clients, but it has been years since this was the case.” Berman and Company appears to have even forced Time to correct a story because he was “misidentified as a lobbyist.”
Beyond highlighting the efforts Mr. Berman has made to avoid being branded with the “Scarlet L,” the new lobbying registration on behalf of CUF also spotlights how indistinguishable the differences between Berman’s for-profit company is from the nonprofits he runs. Apparently, even the people hired by Mr. Berman get confused. As Politico’s Influence newsletter noted, Ms. Hamilton’s registration describes CUF as a “think tank and public affairs firm,” clearly referring to Berman and Company’s PR work.
To be fair to Ms. Hamilton, it’s easy to get confused, especially since Mr. Berman himself blurs the different entities together. For instance, in November 2013, Mr. Berman pitched the Employee Rights Act at the Charleston Meeting, an invitation-only gathering of conservatives. In his speech, Mr. Berman said the legislation “would basically change the federal labor law in this country to take away the unions’ power to organize as efficiently as they do.” He also promoted the idea that his for-profit and nonprofit are interchangeable, encouraging listeners interested in learning more about the legislation to visit either CUF’s or Berman and Company’s website [emphasis added]:
So, I’m hopeful that if you do nothing else, if you want to go to a website, employeerightsact.com. The new legislation, the new version of that legislation is going to be introduced in a matter of days. And you’ll have an opportunity to see what these provisions are. If you want to know more about it, you can come to our website, which is the one I’ve just spoken about or to our company website, which is bermanco, B-E-R-M-A-N-C-O dot com.
Mr. Berman reiterated the interchangeable nature of Berman and Company and its “client” CUF at the end of his talk. Prompted to pitch his website again, Mr. Berman said, “there are three websites. I told you, bermanco.com. You can go to unionfacts.com, or you can go to employeerightsact.com.” Watch the speech for yourself here:
Despite pitching specific legislation throughout the speech, Mr. Berman closed by claiming that CUF tries to avoid politics and lobbying. Asked if “at your website, do you have a petition already set up, so if you go on it goes automatically to your Congress and senators,” Mr. Berman replied, “No. We, we are running a c3 website and I try to stay away from the politics as much as possible, so we’re not lobbying through that website.” Of course, now, CUF is actually lobbying on the Employee Rights Act.
- Apr 03, 2014 Anti-Union Berman Group Hires Lobbyist to Push Bill Aimed at Undermining Unions
- Mar 27, 2014 Rep. Israel Reintroduces Public Online Information Act
- Mar 18, 2014 Going Rogue: Once a Reformer, John McCain Exploits Campaign Finance Loophole
- Mar 18, 2014 Sunshine Week 2014
- Mar 13, 2014 FEC Deadlocks, Dismisses Complaint Against Candidate Who Used Campaign Funds to Buy His Own Book
- Mar 13, 2014 Rep. Quigley Introduces Comprehensive Government Transparency Bill
- Mar 10, 2014 A FOIA Report Card That Is Anything But Fair and Accurate
- Mar 06, 2014 With His Unbecoming Antics, Chairman Darrell Issa Makes A Mockery Of Congressional Oversight
- Feb 27, 2014 Today’s Decision in CREW v. Dep’t of Treasury
- Feb 26, 2014 The House FOIA Bill Is a Good First Step — But Only A First Step
- Feb 21, 2014 Op-Ed: Bringing Democracy To National Security Policy
- Feb 19, 2014 TAKE ACTION: Tell the IRS to Close the Dark Money Loophole
- Feb 18, 2014 Broad Coalition Urges House Action on Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act
- Feb 18, 2014 Another Judge Calls DOJ to Task for Its FOIA Processing
- Feb 12, 2014 Hire Rick Berman’s For-Profit and His Nonprofit Will Go to War for You
- Feb 12, 2014 Magistrate Judge Sides with CREW, Recommends FEC Reimburse Legal Fees
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- Jan 21, 2014 Updating GPO
- Jan 17, 2014 President Obama’s Surveillance Speech and Accountable Government
- Jan 16, 2014 What CREW is Looking For in Obama’s Surveillance Speech
- Jan 16, 2014 Koch Network Backed Mysterious Group Pushing to Shift Allocation of PA Electoral Votes