The White House’s new Executive Order may be significantly different than the open data policies that have come before it on the federal level, but where does it stand in a global -- and local -- context?
Many folks have already jumped at the chance to compare this new US executive order and the new policies that accompany it to a similar public letter issued by UK Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010, but little attention has been paid to one of the new policy’s most substantial provisions: the creation of a public listing of agency data based on an internal audits of information holdings. As administrative as this provision might sound, the creation of this listing (and the accompanying scoping of what information isn’t yet public, but could be released) is part of the next evolution of open data policies (and something Sunlight has long called for as a best practice).
So does this policy put the U.S. on the leading edge?
Josh Shpayher talks about the importance of social media in transparency and it's use by our government and elected officials. GovSM.com, which he founded, is one of the best tools for keeping track of government and political social media use.
The 2010 elections might be over, but the job of finding out who spent what for which candidate is just beginning. Changes in election laws, from the Supreme Court in a pair of decisions, SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and a series of FEC and IRS rulings have led to a surge of outside groups spending unlimited money to influence elections. And 2010 was a just a warm-up: these organizations will most likely play a huge role attempting to influence votes in the 112th Congress, the 2012 Republican presidential primaries and the general election.
Finding out who’s behind these groups is a monumental task, but an absolutely essential one -- and anyone out there reading this post can contribute to that effort. Although the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is supposed to be tracking this flood of campaign spending, they have yet to adopt final rules to do so. Good thing we don’t have to wait for the FEC to get its act together. Here’s what we can do now:
We’ve compiled a list of what we call Super PACs -- those organizations that declared their intention to take unlimited donations from any source to fund political activities. We know where they are (check out this map!), but we need your help to expose who’s behind them.
In the coming days, we’ll be providing more information about how to join us as a “Super PAC Sleuth” to investigate and research these special interests in the shadows (and P.O. Boxes) all across the nation. This will be a multi-step project, but you can help us with the first part today by helping us show what these Super PACs actually look like:
Step 1: Pick a Super PAC near you
Step 2: Take a picture of the Super PAC’s office
Step 3: Upload the picture to your Flickr account
Step 4: Enter the location of your photo on the Flickr map for the image. (Look to the upper right corner.)
Step 5: Add your photo to our Super PAC Sleuths Group.
Step 6: Disclosure! (Well, sort of: it’s a step in the right direction!)
Feel free to tag your submissions with “Super PAC” so that curious Flickr users can find your pictures, too. (You can see our early effort to map DC in the slideshow at the bottom of this post.)
Working together, we can really bring some disclosure to a process that is unjustly shielded from us. To join our awesome team of Super PAC sleuths sign up here, and we’ll send you an update later this week.
Already, the special interests are planning their next act. It’s only a few more weeks before the funds start pouring in for Election Day 2012, the presidential candidates start setting up exploratory committees, and the Super PACs start turning their attention to the legislative and electoral battles ahead. Don’t you want to know who’s trying to buy your vote and what their agenda really is?
With your help, we're building a resource to track campaign spending this election season, and we're excited that so many of you have decided to be involved. Sunlight CAM has only been live for a week, and already you've submitted over 80 ads, with more added each day from all across the country and the aisle.
When you take the three easy steps to report an ad that you saw on television or the Internet or that you've heard over the radio, you provide reporters, bloggers and your peers access to information about who's trying to influence your votes. Now that the DISCLOSE Act has failed in the Senate for the second time, it's more important than ever that we work together to watchdog Washington. The more information you provide about the ads you see or hear, the more information we can dig up about the ad's sponsor.
We're already using the data you've picked up on: Earlier this week, my colleague Lindsay took at look at some of the data you've provided and found some interesting results. Researching one ad by the 60 Plus Association revealed that the organization spent almost half a million dollars of PhRMA-backed money against Pennsylvania Representative Paul Kanjorski in September alone (!).
As we head into the thick of political advertising battles that mark October (a.k.a. The Final Countdown), we urge you to keep your ears and eyes open and to keep those reports coming.
In January, I noted that the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United v. FEC case would open the “floodgates of political money such as we have never seen before.” Since then, Sunlight has continuously pressed Congress to create a more transparent, accountable political disclosure system. We asked for online, real-time transparency provisions in the DISCLOSE Act. But as of today, Congress has failed to pass any legislation in the wake of Citizens United.
While this is disappointing, we're putting the issue of tracking the money into everyone's hands by launching a new website -- Sunlight Campaign Ad Monitor (Sunlight CAM) -- that turns everyone into ad watchdogs. This new site allows anyone to share real-time information on who is buying political ad time in support of or against candidates running for elected office or issues on the ballot. With hundreds of millions of dollars already spent on political advertising and even more expecting to be spent in the final weeks leading up to Election Day, we need everyone to help us keep track of the money. After all, if Congress won't act, we still have to find a way to follow the money -- voters have the right to know what private interests are paying for these ads.
Participating in this distributed research project has just three steps :
Watchdog—Once you are on the site, note the type of ad your are reporting (radio, TV or Internet), as well as information about the media outlet it appeared on, which politician was mentioned, and if the ad included a “paid for by” line. Your anonymous submission will be added to our online database.
Share—Let others know what you find by sharing your reporting with friends on Twitter or Facebook.
We encourage reporters, bloggers and citizens to download the data from the site to do additional research on these ads and funders. Our own Reporting Group will also use Sunlight CAM to assist with its online investigations examining the flow of money in campaigns. And we also welcome the Associated Press Managing Editors association as a media partner for the site.
I am truly excited about this project, but it needs your help to so let’s work together to bring greater transparency to the political ads we see on TV, hear on the radio or watch online.
The new Recovery.gov-- which we've written about and even nearly bid on-- has certainly taken the government huge steps forward in terms of disclosing information, but it is not without controversy. The press is questioning the program, pointing to wasteful spending or bad data. The White House fired back with a "reality check"(their words) saying that few of the reports have gone through the "extensive three-week review" and that the data might be particularly misleading at this point.
After the success of our earmark campaigns, I've been working with the enthusiastic folks at OpenGovernmentNYC to help them launch a campaign of their own. Recently, they obtained from the NYC government a 169-page paper copy of the 1993 NYC Data Directory, bulk scanned it into a big PDF, and asked for help in digitizing it.
Visit the campaign and read Philip Ashlock's blog post to read a little more about why OpenGovNYC wants your help: