In the halls of Congress and most state capitols, exactly what lobbying groups are donating how much to which candidates is duly reported on paper and filed away, making it super-difficult for Joe Citizen to find out. In Montana that's all changing, with the state's launch of a database of lobbyist donations to legislators.
Commissioner of Political Practices Dennis Unsworth said Monday that it's just the first step toward his office putting most of its information online, reports the Billings Gazette.
"We wanted to get something done and do a small piece," he said. "The more important steps are ahead of us. These are just some preliminary steps in online disclosure. We're seriously lacking in that area," stated Unsworth.
Other information such as campaign-finance data for state candidates, campaign donors, contributions and spending are all on file at the agency, and Unworth hopes to get that online as well.
Having access to this kind of information is important because it shows which interest groups are trying to influence the Legislature and who's working for them.
The site is a database that allows the users to search even if they don't have all the information. The database has a "view all lobbyists" or "view all principals" link, which lists them all by letters of the alphabet. A "principal" is the legal term for a company or interest group (a "lobby") that employs individual lobbyists who try to influence the Legislature.