In yesterday's State of the Union address, President Obama made an important commitment to openness and transparency in government:
It's time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress.
This is welcome news. For the past few years, EFF has been litigating a Freedom of Information Act case against the government, seeking the identities of lobbyists who contacted the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on behalf of their telecommunications company clients in order to push for telecom immunity. With the help of lobbyists from AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, the FISA Amendments Act passed with an unconstitutional provision to retroactively grant immunity to the telecoms for collaborating with the warrantless wiretapping program.
So far, the Obama Administration has been fighting hard to stop the release of the names of these representatives, appealing a court order that required disclosure. Just last month, the Obama Administration argued to the appeals court that "there is no public interest in the compelled disclosure of the representatives’ identities." To the contrary, the Administration argued, lobbyists had a "significant privacy interest in being able to communicate confidentially with the government."
While it's great to see Obama reverse his position in the State of the Union and acknowledge the strong public interest in disclosure of lobbying records, the Administration must do more than give speeches in order to fulfill its commitment to transparency. Instead, Obama must apply this policy to pending litigation, and release the identities of telecommunications representatives who lobbied for immunity for the their telecommunications carrier clients.