Since the campaign, we have heard so much about “change.” What change actually means in practice, of course, is still being determined. But based on an experience I just had, I can tell you this: Change is already occurring on K Street.
As the head of one of the larger trade associations in town, I recently sat down with my senior staff and President-elect Obama’s transition team.
We discussed our policy goals, organizational needs and, most importantly, the ways we think we can best help credit union members and consumers as a whole. But soon after we left our meeting, it was very apparent that we have entered a new way of communicating with policymakers.
After meeting with the Obama team, naturally we asked what we could do to follow up, and the team requested that we send over — in electronic format — all the documents we had presented in person.
The team wants the ability to post our documents online, so that others will be able to see what we have presented.
Some on K Street may bristle at this new emphasis on transparency. I, for one, feel it is welcome and overdue. It is about time that we have a level playing field, so that consumers and advocacy organizations can truly understand the facts — or, sadly, the distortion of facts — that are being presented to the administration.
The notion of a level playing field cannot be overestimated. In the past, we would make a presentation, and then we would be followed by our adversaries. They would present often inaccurate “evidence” that would undermine our arguments.
In order for us to accurately determine what was being presented, we would have to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to see what our lobbying opponents were saying. The process was time-consuming and could even take years to produce results.
Those on K Street who have an honest story to tell — and, hopefully, are advocating for good public policy — have nothing to fear by the new approach. If one’s data is correct and the story is straight, then the facts speak for themselves.
Most of the adversarial organizations we battle from time to time will no doubt welcome the new approach, too. While we would disagree with their methodologies and purpose, we know they, too, will be presenting honest arguments for all to see.
The organizations that face a difficult future now are those that claim to represent wide interests, but in reality represent a narrow few. These are the same lobbying organizations that use questionable, in fact sketchy, data to make their distorted points. The public will now be able to see how they conduct a campaign of downright misinformation.
Of course, there are still risks, even for those of us who welcome the transparency. One does not, for example, want to divulge one’s strategy and reveal ideas that can be used by opponents. But even so, the public good here outweighs such concerns.
To be clear, I do not know if this push for transparency will ultimately lead to better government. Perhaps some organizations will present “vanilla” documents with little substance and then make their real presentations orally without documentation.
But still, there is a chance. We can have real accountability and empower our citizens. More so than ever before, a productive researcher with a fast Internet connection who lives outside the Beltway can go toe to toe with a slick insider who is presenting phony arguments.
All of this is particularly pertinent as we make our way through a difficult period in our country. Americans are hurting economically, and they need solutions. Grassroots and Main Street issues are now at the forefront of our policy concerns. How fitting, then, that those on Main Street and at the grass roots — in this new era of transparency — can have unprecedented access to information that will help them discern who really is on their side.
Mica is the president and CEO of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). He served in the House from 1979-1989.