You can imagine my excitement to read this morning in the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council has finally put lawmakers’ statements-of-economic-interest filings online. That information could prove invaluable to journalists and bloggers reporting on the inner workings of the General Assembly.
The statements detail what gifts lawmakers receive, what companies they own stock in, and who employs them and members of their immediate family. For years that information has been held in state offices, available only to those who physically inspected the records in downtown Richmond. Accessing the data online is a breakthrough in transparency. I, for one, looked forward to double-checking legislation for conflicts of interest without the tedious necessity of leaving the Bacon’s Rebellion Global Command Center.
Making a beeline for the Virginia ethics council website this morning, I entered the name of a particularly conflict-afflicted legislator, and eagerly awaited the results. Here’s a screen capture of what appeared on my screen:
Thanks for nothing.
If it’s any consolation, the searchable website for registered lobbyists does work. You can find the names, for instance, of all 16 of Dominion’s registered lobbyists, and all 16 of the Virginia Education Association’s. Of course, you can get the same data over at the Virginia Public Access Project website. Indeed, the VPAP website is better — it allows you to search the lobbyist records by issues lobbied, and it reports on the newest lobbyists registered. It even displays lobbyist photos!
Hopefully, the Virginia ethics council will get its website working soon. But it would serve the public interest even better by turning its data over to VPAP, Virginia’s one-stop-shopping for data on elections, campaign contributions, legislation, candidates and legislators, and lobbyists. Adding lawmakers’ statements of financial interest to the government-transparency portal would be awesome.
Update: OK, here’s what’s going on. The search feature provides a drop-down menu with two options: “June 2016” and “2017.” The June 2016 option is the default option. I used that default option when conducting my search. However, when I switched the option to “2017,” I was able to reach the most current filing. Not a complete dud, but confusing to say the least.There are currently no comments highlighted.