Transparency for thee, but not for Free Press?

The activist group Free Press has thrown out plenty of accusations against its opponents in the Net Neutrality battles of using undue influence and lobbying, but a two-part series from the Daily Caller shows that Free Press has its own issues with transparency.  Far from modeling the openness they demand from Internet providers and backers of the free market, Free Press hid its own lobbying efforts and failed to report all of its activities with Congress and the FCC, among others:

“Paying lip service to transparency and being transparent are two different things,” said Josh Silver in June after the Wall Street Journal published reports about “a series of secret meetings … between the Federal Communications Commission and top industry lobbyists.”

A proponent of net neutrality and director of the media reform nonprofit Free Press, Silver has lit into the FCC numerous times for its off-the-record meetings with telecommunications companies, all of which are fighting the net neutrality policies being pushed by Free Press. …

Actually, the FCC held a number of “secret meetings” with net neutrality proponents. In fact, the “others” were — and most likely still are — members of Free Press’s lobbying arm.

But you wouldn’t know this from looking at Free Press’s Lobbying Disclosure Act filings.

Mike Riggs has a list of undisclosed direct contacts between FP and the FCC.  Those contacts, gleaned from visitor logs and other data, show FP employees engaging with FCC officials since February 2009, and participating in five high-level meetings in January and February of this year alone.  None of those meetings, save one in the fourth quarter of last year, appears on FP’s lobbying documentation.

On expenditures, FP demonstrated the same opacity.  The disparity between their required disclosures under the Lobbying Disclosure Act and their IRS deductions over the years is telling:

IRS Amount for Lobbying: $200,000
LDA Amount Expended on Lobbying: Less than $20,000

Year: 2006
IRS Amount for Lobbying: $167,500
LDA Amount Expended on Lobbying: Less than $20,000

Year: 2007
IRS Amount for Lobbying: $261, 756
LDA Amount Expended on Lobbying: $26,544

Year: 2008
IRS Amount for Lobbying: $332,967
LDA Amount expended on Lobbying: $53,346

IRS Amount for Lobbying: Not yet available
LDA Amount expended on Lobbying: $25,282

Year: 2010
IRS Amount for Lobbying: Not yet available
LDA Amount expended on Lobbying: $7,399 (thus far in 2010)

Riggs figures that FP will claim that they didn’t directly lobby the FCC and Congress, and that the rest came from grassroots organizers and not FP itself.  But Riggs notes that will contradict the plain evidence:

On December 10, 2009, Ben Scott of Free Press wrote NTIA chief of staff Tom Powers an email, in which he asked for a meeting:

“I wanted to reconnect sometime soon. I hear you’re cooking up the next course in the Net Neutrality debate, and I wanted to offer my culinary advice. I’ve been in the Net Neutrality sausage making business for some years now, and I’m hopeful that I can be useful to you. I had a good meeting with Danny Weitzner a week or two ago – but I wanted to talk about the politics with you. Your intervention will carry enormous weight.”

In a follow up email, Scott and Powers agreed to meet at a Starbucks on December 16. The two met together a total of three times in 2009, according to Powers’ public calendar: Aug. 6, Aug. 26, and Dec. 16. On Aug. 3, 2009 Powers and NTIA staffer Larry Strickland both met with Scott.

And yet–Free Press failed to disclose these meetings in its quarterly LDA reports.

Sausage-making and lip service, indeed.  Be sure to read it all.