A working group of lobbyists and activists who use lobbying data met with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office this week to talk about how to make the reporting process more workable and transparent.
Lobbyists must register with the Secretary of State, and they electronically file information about the clients they work with and other data.
“You’re here because you’re the ones who have to input the information in the system and we don’t want to make it impossible for you to try to do your job,” said Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert.
Among the members of the working group meeting at the SOS Wednesday were Loren Furman, the chief lobbyist for the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, and Mike Feeley, an attorney and lobbyist with Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck.
The working group grew out of an earlier meeting between Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Ian Silverii, executive director of the liberal group ProgressNow Colorado. Silverii has logged into the SOS lobbying system for more than a decade in his various careers, including administrator for a lobbying firm, campaign director and chief of staff to the House speaker.
Silverii told the working group he tried to figure out how much money had been spent to lobby Senate Bill 267, known as the “Hospital Provider Fee,” that passed in 2017. He said he found it impossible because the data can’t be downloaded.
In response, the Secretary of State’s lobbyist program manager, Angela Lawson, asked Silverii if he had ever heard of the “Colorado Information Marketplace,” which is updated weekly and includes information about lobbying. Silverii had not. After it was shown to him, he suggested the Colorado Marketplace link, “Get lobbyist data,” be highlighted instead of buried on the “Lobbyist” website.
But after going through the Colorado Information Marketplace, Silverii and others said the system still needs to be improved so the public can learn who is being paid to influence public policy. Amid discussion, Silverii compared the current lobbying reporting system to the Secretary of State’s campaign finance reporting system, TRACER. A self- acclaimed “TRACER evangelist” he mentioned TRACER’s user-friendly nature and convenient features, including the ability to download bulk data.
Others present included Angie Binder, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Association; Mike Beasley, president of 5280 Strategies; Megan Wagner with Brandeberry McKenna Public Affairs; and Sandra Fish, a data journalist who regularly pores through SOS data.
Wagner described the challenges of inputting data the way it is required by the Secretary of State’s office, and others agreed. But although faults were identified with the current system, those present agreed that Colorado is ahead of other states, where the information is still submitted manually.
“This isn’t broke,” Beasley said. “It just needs to evolve, in my mind.”
The Secretary of State’s office will issue a report for stakeholders in coming weeks. D.J. Davis, the deputy director of Business and Licensing Division, said he was “thrilled for the participation of and grateful to the stakeholders that attended.”
Said Silverii: “Coloradans need more transparency in the lobbyist disclosure system in order to understand truly how much money is spent attempting to influence public policy, and exactly who is behind that money. I am sincerely appreciative of the Secretary of State and his staff for taking the time to work on improvements, and look forward to seeing that work lead to a better system and greater transparency.”