Finding out what congressional district an address falls within can be a difficult problem. One solution is to use the polipoly library that we have open sourced to check if a point falls within a polygon boundary of a congressional district.
Micah Sifry (Sunlight senior strategic consultant) writes:
I've just finished spending two days at a mini-retreat on open government data organized by Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.Org, hosted by Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media and funded by the Sunlight Foundation, Google and Yahoo!. The purpose of the meeting was to gather a bunch of folks from both the public and private sectors who are working on everything from pro-democracy websites to hyper-local news startups to see if we could draft some common principles for data and open government, and also to deepen connections and collaboration among a powerfully creative group of individuals and projects. (Full disclosure: I was there in my consulting role as a senior technology adviser to Sunlight, but this was another of those fortuitous events where I get to where all my hats as PdF editor, open government activist, and Sunlight consultant at once.)
In attendance were Adrian Holovaty and Daniel O'Neil of the soon-to-be-unveiled EveryBlock; Michal Mugurski and Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen Design, which does amazing work with data visualization; Josh Tauberer of GovTrack.us, which makes Thomas useful and amazes the rest of us with his efficiency; Lawrence Lessig of Stanford, who's focusing his prodigious energies on the problem of corruption; Dan Newman of MAPLight.org, which is doing path-breaking work connecting money, legislators, votes and power; John Geraci of outside.in, which is localizing the blogosphere down the neighborhood level; Ed Bender of the Institute for Money in State Politics, which has state-of-the-art APIs for mashing up state-level campaign finance data; Tom Steinberg of mySociety.org, probably the world's leader in pro-democracy web services (see TheyWorkForYou.com); David Moore and Donny Shaw of OpenCongress, which brings social wisdom to unveil what's really going inside Congress now; JL Needham of Google, you've probably heard of them; Ethan Zuckerman of the Berkman Center, who has more accomplishments in the geek-to-social-good sector than anyone I know (and he's only 34!!); Greg Palmer, whose stepping down as Congressman Henry Waxman's tech director soon to venture into some exciting projects in the private sector; Jamie Taylor of Metaweb, which is building a powerful platform called Freebase for public information sharing; Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo!, you've probably heard of them too; Zack Exley of the New Organizing Institute, whose one of my favorite progressive agitators; Michael Dale of Metavid, which is bringing transparency and interactivity to Congressional video; Joseph Lorenzo Hall of UC Berkeley, one of the world's experts on e-voting; Marcia Hoffman, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which I am a proud member of; David Orban of Metasocial Web, who is exploring the frontier of networked politics; Will Fitzpatrick of Omidyar Network, which is moving toward embracing transparency as a top priority; Aaron Swartz of Open Library, which is working on creating a wiki page for every book in the world; and myself and Greg Elin of the Sunlight Labs.
<p>Our good friends over at<a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/"> Talking Points Memo</a> have announced the first annual <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/060210.php">Golden Duke Awards</a>, an end of the year, reader-nominated, scandal contest. We want to urge you to send in your nominations,!</p><p>TPM named the contest for former congressman and now federal inmate Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the center of what Josh Marshall called the "iconic modern political scandal: you've got bribery, sex, national security, and just cartoonish ridiculousness writ large." His team is inviting readers to nominate their favorite political crook or bamboozler in six categories: best testimonial train wreck, outstanding achievement for improbable forgetfulness, outstanding achievement in corruption-based chutzpa, best local scandal, best scandal - sex or carnality related, and best scandal, general interest. Send in your nominations by December 14. </p><p>TPM has compiled an impressive panel of judges, including <a href="http://susiebright.blogs.com/susie_brights_journal_/">Susie Bright</a>, <a href="file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/Mike/My%20Documents/John%20Dean">John Dean</a>, <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/hendrikhertzberg/">Hendrik Hertzberg</a>, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dahlia_Lithwick">Dahlia Lithwick</a> and <a href="http://matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com/">Matthew Yglesias</a>. On December 18, TPM will announce the nominees and the winners on December 31. </p>
<p>The massive and numerous <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20254745">recalls</a> of Chinese-made toys because of lead-based paint and other toxins naturally have <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16954534&ft=1&f=1006">parents worried</a>, especially this time of year. There was another <a href="http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml08/08119.html">recall</a> announced just yesterday, this time of toddler potty training seats tainted with lead paint. This latest recall makes 99 recalls for 2007 totaling more than 16 million products, according to <a href="http://www.ombwatch.org/article/blogs/entry/4336">OMB Watch</a>. The so-called federal watchdog, the <a href="http://www.cpsc.gov/">Consumer Product Safety Commission</a> (CPSC), is underfunded and largely <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN0634128520070906">toothless</a>. Maybe this is part of the problem?<br /> </p> <p>Then there is the issue of the former and acting chiefs of the CPSC, and their close relationship with industries they were responsible for regulating. Last month, <i><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/">The Washington Post</a></i> reported that the agency's acting chairman, Nancy Nord, and the previous chairman, Hal Stratton, had "<a href="http://www.newsobserver.com/business/story/759050.html">taken dozens of trips</a> at the expense of the toy, appliance and children's furniture industries and others they regulate." In May, Bush's nominee to head the CPSC, Michael Baroody, was forced to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/24/washington/24baroody.html?ex=1337659200&en=7a415948e843e4e0&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss">withdraw</a> his nomination when it became clear that he would not win confirmation in the Senate Commerce Committee because he was a senior lobbyist with the <a href="http://www.nam.org/s_nam/index.asp">National Association of Manufacturers</a>.</p> <p>In the face of the feds' dereliction of its duty, activist groups are jumping into the breach.
Earlier this week, the Associated Press profiled the phenomenally successful career, by Washington standards at least, of Ed Gillespie, now Counselor to the preisdent, and former and likely future mega-lobbyist. The catalyst for the story was the AP getting a hold of Gillespie's 18-page financial disclosure report he submitted to the Office of Government Ethics as a White House staffer.
The document reports "assets of between $7.86 million and $19.4 million when he began working at the White House in June, illustrating the wealth available to those at the top of Washington's lobbying industry." Gillespie got rich as a founding principal of Quinn, Gillespie & Associates, a lobbying firm he started in 2000 with former Clinton White House counsel Jack Quinn. The firm has been hugely successful, having earned $18,000,000 in income in 2006 and almost $9,000,000 so far this year.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by Rep. Jim McDermott of a ruling that he acted improperly by passing on to reporters a recording of a 1996 telephone call where Republican leaders talked strategy in regard to the ethics case pending against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). This week's decision also leaves standing a previous court ruling saying that McDermott would have to pay $60,000 in damages and $800,000 in legal bills to now House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who had sued the Washington Democrat in 1998.
The question is, how is McDermott going to pay? CQ looked into whether he can use a legal-defense fund to help pay Boehner and it seems possible. It turns out that McDermott is one of six House members who maintain active legal defense funds, reporting contributions this year. CQ says that the rise in these separate accounts funds is a result of an increase in Justice Department and Federal Election Commission investigations.
Earlier this year, David All and I wrote a section of the Open House Project calling for the House to review and rewrite arcane franking regulations as applied to member Web sites. According to Roll Call, it looks like this is actually going to happen. If you've ever been to a congressional Web site you've probably noticed the lack of interactivity, multimedia, and linking that is common in today's Internet. That's because of unwritten, nonspecific, arbitrary rules that are unevenly applied across member Web sites. Members can't post YouTube videos, link to MySpace, ask people to Digg something on their site, or have a blogroll. All of that may be changing soon:
Regulations prohibit content that can be construed as an advertisement or as purely personal information, such as links to fundraisers or support for partisan causes. Now, the new phenomenon of social networking sites — and the increasing use of them by Members — is testing the application of such rules in a multimedia world.
House and Senate officials say several Members are not in compliance, though none apparently have been disciplined. It’s time, they say, to update the rules to match the technology.
The House Administration Committee has been drafting possible changes for months, as has the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.
Paul Blumenthal just came across this document from the GAO, transcribing a pithy speech by the Comptroller General of the United States, David Walker (the head of the GAO). Transparent Government and Access to Information: A Role for Supreme Audit Institutions provides a neat tour of the advantages of transparent public administration, from the viewpoint at the top of the nation's leading accountability officer.
(more after the jump.)
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo today unveiled "Project Sunlight," a powerful and easy-to-use website giving the public unprecedented access to the workings of state government and the information it keeps. While not directly affiliated with us, imitation is the highest form of flattery. We also think that this beta website can provide a model for other states.
New York's Project Sunlight allows tracking, in as real time as the reports are available, seven different state databases -- campaign financing, lobbying, agency contracts, member items, legislation and both for-profit and not-for-profit corporations -- and the links between them.
The website -- which went live today at 3 PM -- also offers a map of the state allowing users to search for member item spending by locality and includes videos to enhance the ease with which users can understand the educational materials.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) highlights a Roll Call report about U.S. Rep. Sam Graves' use of a contributor's airplane to travel throughout his large rural district, and his failure to disclose the use of the plane in his House reports. Graves has benefited from possibly thousands of dollars worth of free flights owned by a contracting firm that is also a major financial contributor to Graves' campaigns. St. Joseph, Mo., -based Herzog Comanies Inc. is the second largest contributor to Graves over his career, having given the congressman over $75,000 since 1989. How can Graves' failure to disclose these gifts not have been a violation of House ethics rules?
Last month, Roll Call raised questions regarding other flights Herzog provided Graves on its airplanes. Prime Buzz, the political blog of The Kansas City Star, reprinted the subscription-only article. Graves' financial reports list flights on Herzog corporate jets to attend NASCAR races in Florida. Graves's records term the flights as gifts from a personal friend. House ethics rules did allow members and their staff to receive gifts from friends, but requires that member receive prior approval from the ethics committee for any gift valued over $250. But as Roll Call points out, the jets are owned by a corporation, not an individual...And corporations don't have friends.