The Brennan Center for Justice applauds the launch today of New York State’s Project Sunlight database, an online feature that provides a portal for the disclosure of meetings among government officials, individuals and entities with business before those officials, and their internal or external representatives.
We note that the database is an important component of the Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011, which required elected officials working as lawyers or consultants to disclose their clients. Client disclosure for public officials was widely endorsed by good government groups and bar associations, but the final provision included in PIRA was heavily negotiated, resulting in many ways for filers to evade this disclosure. Indeed, the first set of these reports, which were filed in June 2013 by lawmakers and other officials, reveal very few clients.
Governor Cuomo’s pledge to create the Project Sunlight database by 2013 partly allayed concerns about the porous nature of the final compromise on client disclosure. The database is now accessible via the Project Sunlight website to the public, and allows users to search for the name of a law or consulting firm or its members or a client (either an individual or a company), and receive a list of meetings at dozens of state agencies and entities, including the date and purpose of the gathering, and a list of all attendees (officials, clients and their internal and external representatives).
Although there will still be significant gaps in the available information about the outside activities of lawmakers and other officials, this database will ensure that going forward the public, the media, and policymakers will be better able to discern whether an officeholder or their business partners are representing clients with state business before state agencies, an important part of the overall picture. The database is an excellent example of how the Governor can use the powers of his office to fashion innovative ways to improve integrity and transparency in Albany, despite political stalemate on key reform issues. The new client database is the first of its kind, and we hope will become a model for transparency and accountability nationally.