The Darker Side of Sunshine Laws
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
It’s often said, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” So often, in fact, that we’ve taken it to be a truism.
The statement isn’t wrong, but it isn’t always right. Sometimes sunshine is the best disinfectant. Other times it causes the infection to spread.
In 2010, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton called a lobbyist. She left a message stating that she was “handling the largest economic development project in the United States” and that the committee’s work is “in your sector.” Norton went on to say that the lobbyist had made contributions to other members of her committee, and she was “frankly surprised” that she had not received a contribution herself. Is that extortion? Maybe not, but it’s moving in that direction. How did Congresswoman Norton know that the lobbyist had supported her colleagues but not her? She likely found out through disclosure records, which are required by law when donations are made to politicians. The purpose of those records — the main reason law mandates disclosure of this kind — is to deter corruption, of course, not to promote it.