Rep. William Jefferson’s, D-La., current race for reelection is being described as “like being in a fight with an octopus”. The nine-term incumbent is currently facing 12 opponents in what is his toughest race to date. Jefferson’s difficulties stem from a federal investigation that has already netted one guilty plea, $90,000 in cash in Jefferson’s freezer, and an unprecedented FBI raid on Jefferson’s congressional office. Absent these factors it is unlikely that most of Jefferson’s opponents would have challenged him.
Why should investigative reporters have all the fun?
Sunlight today is unveiling a new website – Watchdogging 101. It’s a collection of more than 20 illustrated tutorials that give step-by-step instructions on where and how to dig out information on the web about money and influence in national politics.
It’s all presented in a Q&A format and the questions run the gamut from the most basic – Who’s my Congressman? – to more complicated issues like tracking industry giving and finding out who’s lobbying for whom.
Rep. Curt Weldon can’t seem to catch a break. First, he found out that he was under federal investigation after his lobbyist daughter and her client, Itera, had their offices raided by the FBI. Then, to much ridicule, he attempted to blame the entire FBI raid on a liberal conspiracy involving Bill Clinton, Sandy Berger, and Jamie Gorelick. Now the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times have decided to pile on with stories that are textbook examples of what is wrong with Washington. They describe an Italian defense contractor fêting Weldon at a five-star hotel in Italy and a $2 million earmark to another defense contractor, Dynamic Defense Materials.
Some 19 current members of the House of Representatives pay their spouses out of their campaign war chests, totaling more than $636,000 in the current election cycle, a study by citizen journalists working with the Sunlight Foundation has found. Phase one of the "Is Congress A Family Business?" investigation is now complete.
Using an innovative tool developed by Sunlight Labs, about 40 volunteers investigated anywhere from one to as many as 155 members, uncovering those who, by hiring their spouses to work for their campaign, allow special interest cash to enter their family budgets.
While the federal nepotism statute prohibits members of Congress from hiring spouses to work in their Washington or district offices, there is no law preventing members from hiring family members to work for their campaign committees, provided they render bona fide services to the campaign at fair market value.
At first it looked like Open Secrets was back online, but the only thing working was the home page. But by 11:40 am ET the website looked to be functioning normally. Congratulations to CRP on getting back in business. Let's hope their computer karma stays healthy between now and Election Day!
Just a week before Election Day, the nation’s biggest archive of information on who’s paying the bills for the 2006 election is closed to the public. A computer glitch knocked the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website off the air last Friday. It’s been offline ever since, and is still offline as I write this early Tuesday morning.
I’m not going to suggest that this is some election-eve conspiracy, but if it were it could hardly have come at a more critical time. This is the equivalent of Macy’s closing its doors for four days in the middle of the Christmas shopping season.
Look at what you can find out, when a lawmaker publishes his schedule.
Here’s another double-edged benefit of the internet: this year, thanks to YouTube and other sites that let users post and share videos, the whole world can see the sort of sleaze that passes for political advertising as Election Day draws near.
In fact, the one-two-three punch of Google, YouTube and a broadband connection means that anyone can do in a few seconds what I did yesterday – learn about offensive ads in a newspaper story, then take a look at them yourself.
The folks over at the Electronic Frontier Foundation are releasing tips and guidelines on how to use FOIA, recognizing that so much good investigative reporting is happening live on the web. (Is it really happening anywhere else?)
There an FAQ on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that outlines how to use open government laws to get access to records kept by federal agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Election season is offering all kinds of ways of citizens to put on their reporting hats and take to the streets. One of the neatest ideas I've run across is VideoTheVote which is asking us to record what is happening at the polls on election day. They will post the videos online and spread the word through the blogosphere.
As we say, "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants..."