Dirt Diggers Digest No. 68

Editor: Philip Mattera

April 19, 2006



-- 1. Easier access to current lobbying disclosure

-- 2. Disclosure of corporate tax returns under discussion

-- 3. Wal-Mart makes public its EEO-1

-- 4. British firms operating in Iraq

-- 5. Spooks put new emphasis on open-source intelligence

-- 6. LexisNexis adds database on “politically exposed persons”

-- 7. PACER is adding written opinions

-- 8. Google joins Yahoo et al. in providing stock info

-- 9. A daily dose of business research sources

-- 10. Dirt Diggers Digest archive now on the web

-- 11. Freelance corporate researchers sought [omitted from online archive]

1. Easier access to current lobbying disclosure


While Congress continues to debate half-hearted lobbying reform (including additional disclosure), the Center for Responsive Politics has come out with a new online database that provides easier access to the lobbying information that is already available. CRP’s Lobbying Database is based on data from the semi-annual lobbyist reports that are filed with Congress and made available through the clumsy site of the Senate Office of Public Records. CRP makes it easier to search by client, by lobbying firm or by individual lobbyist.

The site also has profiles of the lobbying activities of various sectors of the economy, overviews of lobbying on key policy issues and snapshots of those parts of the federal government that lobbyists focus on the most.


2. Disclosure of corporate tax returns under discussion


The tax world is abuzz over recent comments by IRS Commissioner Mark Everson suggesting that corporations should be required to make public all or part of their federal tax returns (see, for example BNA’s Daily Tax Report for March 29 and April 3). Everson said that such disclosure could improve corporate tax compliance. This is presumably because companies would have to explain the typical discrepancy between the net income reported to the IRS and the amount reported to shareholders. It was not clear whether Everson is thinking that disclosure would apply to privately held firms.

Tax disclosure is also under discussion at the state level. In Oregon, the state supreme court has cleared the way for a ballot measure that would provide for the disclosure of tax data for all financial corporations, all publicly traded companies and privately held companies with at least 250 employees or $10 million in annual revenue. The Montana Supreme Court is weighing a suit brought by State Senator Jim Elliott seeking the disclosure of corporate tax returns in the state.


3. Wal-Mart makes public its EEO-1


Wal-Mart Stores, facing charges of employment discrimination (among many other things), recently joined a handful of large companies that disclose the annual report on workforce diversity required by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It took the step in response to a shareholder resolution brought by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility

The report, known as the EEO-1, is considered confidential by the EEOC, but some companies have made theirs public in response to pressure from activist investors. According to a survey by the Social Investment Research Analyst Network, those companies releasing the entire EEO-1 include Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel and Merck. The Wal-Mart document can be found on its Walmartfacts website.


4. British firms operating in Iraq


UK-based Corporate Watch has released Corporate Carve-Up, a report on the role of British companies in Iraq over the past three years. Among the topics covered are companies acting as consultants to the Iraqi government and those engaged in the private security business. The report includes a directory of more than 60 firms and non- profits along with basic information about their Iraqi operations.

Also available from Corporate Watch is an excellent guide to researching companies that focuses on UK institutions and information sources.


5. Spooks put new emphasis on open-source intelligence


The federal government spends an estimated $44 billion on intelligence-gathering, but the emphasis these days seems to be not on spying but on the kind of information that we Dirt Diggers depend on in our work. Recently, two high-ranking members of the House Homeland Security Committee introduced a bill (H.R. 5003) that would instruct the Department of Homeland Security to make full and efficient use of what is known as open-source intelligence in protecting the nation. This follows the creation late last year of the Open Source Center by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The Center is supposed to gather and analyze information from the web, broadcasts, newspapers, public records and other unclassified sources around the world.

A useful overview of the trend published recently by Government Computer News noted that the number of open-source items appearing in the President’s Daily Brief has increased. It will be interesting to see if the Dirt Diggers Digest begins to receive subscription requests from the CIA and the NSA.

While the federal government makes greater use of public information, it is imposing more and more restrictions on data about its own operations. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office found that 26 agencies are using a total of 56 different designations for information deemed sensitive but unclassified. Along with the expected agencies such as Homeland Security and DoD, the survey found such information restrictions at places such as the Commerce Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.


6. LexisNexis adds database on “politically exposed persons”


LexisNexis recently announced the availability of a new product that aggregates information on what are called “politically exposed persons.” Produced by a company called WorldCompliance that specializes in due diligence, the database is meant to help financial institutions determine which of their customers are current or former officials of foreign governments or corporations, as well as their family members and business associates. Such customers are thought to be a special risk for activities such as money laundering. The sample record on the WorldCompliance website is for Augosto Pinochet. The Nexis version of the database is available to all subscribers as an add-on service.

Nexis also makes available within several of its standard libraries a file called OFAC that contains information from the Treasury Department’s master list of “Specifically Designated Global Terrorists,” the Bureau of Export Administration’s Denied Persons List and similar lists from other federal agencies as well as the World Bank, the United Nations and Interpol.


7. PACER is adding written opinions


PACER, the database that provides access to federal court dockets and in some cases actual filings, is adding a new feature: written opinions. This innovation, which will reduce a researcher’s dependence on Lexis or Westlaw, is being implemented at those federal courts that have installed version 2.4 or higher of the CM/ECF system. That system, which makes possible the viewing of filings, has been adopted by around 90 percent of the federal courts. More information on PACER can be found on its website.


8. Google joins Yahoo et al. in providing stock info


Google has joined the slew of websites that provide quick access to stock market information and company news. Google Finance, still in beta version, has limited features. Apart from stock charts and current headlines, it has little more than basic financials and short company profiles from Reuters. For now, it seems a lot less useful than sites such as Yahoo Finance.


9. A daily dose of business research sources


For those of you with an insatiable appetite for news about business research, help has arrived. Robert Berkman, editor of a monthly newsletter called The Information Advisor, has launched a more-or-less daily blog called Intelligent Agent. Berkman says: “My mission is to identify new quality business sources, link to breaking business information industry news, and facilitate thoughtful discussion on what it takes to do good business research in the new world of Web 2.0.”


10. Dirt Diggers Digest archive now on the web


To celebrate the fourth anniversary of the Dirt Diggers Digest, your editor has finally created an online archive of back issues. The back issues are complete except for two things: job postings have been eliminated, and the e-mail addresses of those of you who have submitted items have been removed.

Another new feature: the cumulative index of sources from past issues of the Digest now lists the issue in which each source was discussed.