Friday, December 19th, 2014

Walk-O-Meter

Toughen reporting requirements for lobbyists

Will "require lobbyists to report all attempts to influence state agency decisions regarding the awarding of state contracts and grants and provide real time disclosure of all contracts and grant awards."


Updates

No final action on either side of this equation

Scott Walker had improving transparency on his mind in 2010 when he made a two-pronged campaign promise for his first term, which ends the first week in January 2015.

He said he would "require lobbyists to report all attempts to influence state agency decisions regarding the awarding of state contracts and grants and provide real time disclosure of all contracts and grant awards."

Nothing happened on the lobbying portion of the promise.

As for the real-time disclosure of contracts and grant awards, the Walker administration says that is planned as an addition to the state's new OpenBook Wisconsin website, which debuted in January 2014.

OpenBook discloses expenditures by state agencies in a searchable format, and it was lauded by the consumer group WISPIRG, which dramatically boosted its grade for transparency in Wisconsin government spending.

The online disclosure of state spending pre-dates Walker, but this is what the consumer group said about the new OpenBook site:

"OpenBook Wisconsin brings a far greater level of transparency to government spending by posting the state's checkbook. Visitors can browse the payments made to vendors based on the vendor's name, purchasing agency or type of expenditure. The checkbook is updated every two weeks, and even though the site is new, the Department of Administration has posted expenditure information back to fiscal year 2008."

On OpenBook, you can see payments to vendors recorded by categories within each state agency.

For instance, you can see that the Department of Corrections spent $2.7  million in fiscal year 2014 on furnishings in its capital projects budget. Or which roadbuilders won tens of millions of dollars of work from the Department of Transportation. It's easy to sort the data tables to see which vendors sold products to the state.

Here's the rub for Walker and his promise.

OpenBook has not yet added information on contracts and grants, as the governor pledged as a candidate in 2010.

According to a notice on the homepage:

"In the future, we will be adding employee salary and fringe payment data for the State, University of Wisconsin, Legislature and the courts. We will also be adding the grants that have been awarded, as well as the contracts that state agencies have with vendors."

Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, said the agency's aged computer systems need to be fully upgraded before the contract and grant data can be posted. No definitive date has been set for when this will happen.

There is some contract information on DOA's website, including links to specific agencies, but so far it can't be integrated with OpenBook.

So while OpenBook has drawn praise, it hasn't yet lived up to Walker's specific promise. And the lobbying pledge went nowhere.

Since this was a first-term promise, we are moving it from Stalled to Promise Broken given that it was a first-term promise.

If the next phase comes online, we will revisit our decision.

Sources:

Email with Stephanie Marquis, Department of Administration, Dec. 18 , 2014

OpenBook website, accessed Dec. 18, 2014

Still time to make some headway on this two-pronged promise

With less than four months to go in his term, Gov. Scott Walker can't report much progress on a multifaceted pledge to:

-- "Require lobbyists to report all attempts to influence state agency decisions regarding the awarding of state contracts and grants."

-- "And provide real time disclosure of all contracts and grant awards."

The administration reports no new progress on the lobbying promise.

Regarding the disclosure of contracts and grants in real time, Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the next phase of the administration's new OpenBook website would add that feature.

OpenBook compiles all state agency spending of $100 or above for the public to view. Walker unveiled it in spring 2014. A separate website, predating Walker, shows contracts over $10,000.

That addition would put this on the path to a Compromise rating, but we'll keep it one at Stalled for now.

Sources:

Email exchange with Laurel Patrick, governor's office, Sept. 5, 2014

More than half-way through term, requirements remain the same

Gov. Scott Walker said in his 2010 campaign that he would require lobbyists to report their interactions with state agencies during the procurement process.


Specifically he announced that he would "require lobbyists to report all attempts to influence state agency decisions regarding the awarding of state contracts and grants.”


Past the halfway mark in his term, the lobbying disclosure requirements are unchanged.


Lobbyists currently are not required to disclose work advocating for the award of contracts to their clients. They must report lobbying on legislative bills and agency rules.


Neither Walker nor the Republican-controlled Legislature has acted on broadening the disclosure requirements. A Democratic-sponsored bill that died in committee would have regulated former state officials" lobbying on state procurement decisions.


As for the heightened transparency on contracts, Walker communications director Jocelyn Webster said in late March 2013 that Walker is poised to roll out a website soon called "Open Book” that would make it easier for the public to view state agency spending. The current site is Contract Sunshine.


The new site is in production, Walker's staff has told reporters.


We"ll await the public rollout before we decide whether the site provides the promised "real-time disclosure.”


For now, we rate this Stalled.

Sources:

Email interview with Jocelyn Webster, Walker communications director, March 22, 2013

Walker campaign website