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Ethics panel to test online lobby reporting

System will let public search for info filed by lobbyists, clients

Oregon ethics officials plan to test a new online reporting system for lobbyists in late August and begin a pilot project in the fall.

“We’ll invite some folks to come in and test the system,” said Ron Bersin, Oregon Government Ethics Commission executive director, adding that the testers could include lobbyists as well as members of the public.

Lobbyists and their clients currently file spending disclosures on paper forms in Oregon, and the ethics commission posts spreadsheets with some of the data on its website. The new system will allow the public to search the data and view documents filed by both lobbyists and their clients.

The new system has been in the works since 2007, but the plan was placed on hold when the Legislature diverted funding to other priorities during the recession. Now, the ethics commission will pay for the system with fees on local and state government agencies.

The commission contracted with NIC USA, the company that also has a contract to work on Oregon.gov and other state agency websites. Bersin said NIC USA developed the online lobbyist reporting system for free, and will charge an annual subscription fee of $63,500 for access to it. It took more than a year for the company to build the system.

Lobbyists will not have to pay to use the system. The pilot project will start in October with 15 lobbyists.

“We’re working with the Capitol Club to give us some people,” Bersin said, referring to the professional organization for Oregon lobbyists. “It’s time for this to happen.”

Lobbyists and clients can register through the online system starting Dec. 15, although Bersin said the first quarterly reporting deadline for the new system is April 15.

Janice Thompson, the former executive director of Common Cause in Oregon, said it is important for the system to be searchable, user-friendly and “of use to the public.”

Thompson said she wants state officials to look for opportunities to connect the new lobbyist database with the state’s separate campaign finance database maintained by the secretary of state. That would make it easier for people to understand the extent of spending by groups and individuals that want to influence public policy.

“There’s two categories of political money,” Thompson said. “Campaign money, and lobbying money. But obviously a lot of the players are the same.”