Throughout my four-decade career as a journalist, I’ve considered myself a “political intelligence gatherer” in the best sense of the term. As a reporter covering the Justice Department and federal courts in the 1970s, I learned firsthand the importance of digging into the backroom dealings and off-the-record transactions that plague America’s capital city. Political intelligence gatherers give citizens the most powerful tools to fight corruption: information and transparency.

That legacy of political intelligence gathering continues today. In fact, since Watergate shattered the American public’s confidence in politics forty years ago, the need for full disclosure has never been greater. As President Obama said in his State of the Union address this year, the divide between Washington and the rest of the country seems to be widening, which is no doubt fueled by the sense that backroom deals, negotiated out of the public view, put special interests ahead of the common good.
While the effort by Senator Grassley and others to combat political insider trading is on the mark, the definition of political intelligence creates confusion between services like ours that promote open government and the bad actors who benefit from keeping government closed. He writes, “Congress…[is] supposed to enact policy in the best interests of the American people – not help Wall Street firms at the expense of everyone else.”  I couldn’t agree more. Just as we seek to promote accountability in the federal government, we want transparency within the political intelligence industry. But as the conversation over reforming Washington continues, let’s be sure not to confuse the cleansing value of information with the sullying effects of those who abuse it.
Jenkins is publisher of First Street by CQ Press, a political intelligence platform for advocacy professionals, that compiles hundreds of thousands of public records about current and former Members of Congress and staff to make sense of the maze of connections that influence the legislative process.