If you ever wanted to sit in on a meeting between Members of Congress and lobbyists trying to influence their voting, you can do it now, at least from a cyber perspective, courtesy of the House GOP and the Sunlight Foundation.
Go here for the livestreaming, plus a Sunlight feed that shows who the lobbyists have contributed to in recent years. And for a detailed accounting of how all this came about, check out Greg Sargent's Plum Line post over on the Washington Post site.
The presence of cameras no doubt puts a different face on everybody present, but the precedent being established of public access to such meetings is extraordinarily important, historic even, which is why those of us who encourage a transpartisan commitment to greater transparency in government are cheering House Minority Leader John Boehner and the House Republican caucus for making lemonade out of lemons.
Today's meeting is part of the congressional GOP's innovative "America Speaking Out" program. Go here for more information on America Speaking Out.
UPDATE: Meeting concluded. Some suggestions for next time
It wasn't exactly a viral block buster, but the America Speaking Out meeting with congressional lobbyists nevertheless could prove to be an important step towards greater transparency and accountability in government. Some suggestions for future events:
* Whenever lobbyists are involved, campaign contributions ought to be simultaneously detailed, as the Sunlight Foundation did today with the GOP event. The more one party displays, the more the other has to do the same or better.
* Make it as inter-active as possible. Give the audience a chance to submit questions in real-time.
* Provide contact info for all speakers on the screen as they speak.
* Publicize the cybercast in advance as widely as possible and as far in advance as possible.
* Avoid the temptation to turn a civics demonstration into show business or message management.
UPDATE II: A very thorough critique from Sunlight
Noah Kunin of the Sunlight Foundation provides a knowledgable critique of the event that includes this critically important observation:
"The key aspect in making a live event like this useful to citizens is to have a community audience engaged in a discourse on the material at hand. We had some great comments in the live blog and on social networks but not nearly enough. Advance notice would have greatly helped build this conversation ahead of time. We also need better uptake from a more diverse set of media partners," Kunin said.
And Kunin wonders why the House GOPers didn't do a better job of integrating the cybercasting of the lobbyist meeting with the America Speaking Out web site, which, as The Examiner's Anna Dorminey notes, is attracting a rather substantial community of users.
"My final feedback is on the lack of critical integration with the America Speaking Out website itself. The groups these lobbyists represent have massive membership lists. It would have better served the audience (and the Republican leadership) had the lobbyists posted the ideas they were bringing to the forum on the web so their membership base and the public at large could respond to them in advance. The meeting could then be a discussion of that reaction instead of spending time reciting bullet points."
And by expanding the audience for the event itself, the House GOP leaders would have been able to use the event as a tool for increasing their America Speaking Out community and priming it for future activities.
You can be certain that when the DCCC or another of the Democratic party campaign committees follows the GOP precedent here that they will be certain to integrate the audiences as Kunin suggests. You can read the balance of Kunin's interesting analysis here.