These House leaders all receive more money from the 1% of the 1% than they do from small donors (under $200). With the exception of John Boehner, the U.S. House leaders we profiled received roughly between 6 times and 16 times more money from the 1% of the 1% than they did from small donors.
The Sunlight Foundation's Politwoops U.S. adaptation of the original Politwoops.nl turns one-year-old today and it has certainly made an impression. In the past year, Politwoops surfaced more than 6,200 deleted tweets and drew nearly 300,000 visits. TIME Magazine even named Politwoops one of the best websites of 2012. Some of the best examples of Politwoops' impact are how journalists routinely utilize it, politicians play with it and how Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., declared there is no better way to get media attention than to delete a tweet.
Since inception we've entered 1,174 different Twitter handles, adding new campaign accounts and challengers during the election season and ceasing our tracking once someone leaves office or drops out. Just yesterday we added a new category for gubernatorial challengers, currently populated by challengers in New Jersey and Virginia for the fall 2013 elections. As always, if you find any candidates or politicians with Twitter accounts that we don't follow yet, just email us and we'll add them.
Earlier today, Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor and the Government Printing Office announced an improvement in how legislation is made publicly available. Starting in the 113th Congress, GPO will make all bills available for bulk download in XML format. While this doesn't change much from a technological perspective, it does mark a significant change from a policy perspective.
Today we are pleased to release a report on improving public access to legislative information. The report (PDF, DOC, ODT) is the result of a collaborative effort that was prompted by the House Leadership's recent statement endorsing bulk access and the questions raised in a committee report accompanying the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill.
Politico reported today that the Senate is considering voting on the House version of the STOCK Act rather than convening a conference committee where differences between the House bill and the much stronger Senate-passed bill would be hashed out. The move, still under consideration, would be designed to avoid a filibuster attempt and would give cover to Members of Congress, allowing them to head into the election season claiming to be reformers.
But, by even considering voting on the "STOCK Act Lite" instead of going to conference, Senate leaders are engaging in the kind of political gamesmanship that has resulted in the public’s low opinion of Congress in the first place. Rather than stand on principle and take a bill that Senators supported by an overwhelming vote of 96 to 3 to conference, Senators would be taking the expedient route, kowtowing to the mere threat of a filibuster by Senator Tom Coburn. Do Senators Reid and McConnell need to be reminded that a bill that passed with 96 yea votes probably has the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster?
More importantly, the Senate-passed version of the STOCK Act is a much better bill. Like the House version, it ensures that insider-trading laws apply to Congress and improves transparency of legal trades. In addition, it addresses the entirely secretive practice that allows political intelligence firms to gather congressional information and use that information to enrich investors and manipulate markets. It does so not by banning the practice, but by applying disclosure laws to those who roam the halls of congress in search of information that could impact stock trades or other investments. The disclosure help to ensure enforcement of insider-trading laws.
The original House version of the STOCK Act, which included political intelligence disclosure provisions, had 286 co-sponsors, more than enough to pass. But bowing to pressures from Wall Street, Eric Cantor gutted the bill, stripping the political intelligence disclosure language from it before he would allow it to come to a vote.
The watered down bill passed the House and should proceed, along with the Senate bill, to conference where differences between the two versions would be hashed out. With the strong support the political intelligence disclosure language has in both Houses, it is possible that a bill would emerge from conference with that language reinstated. Simply put, a strong reform bill could become law. Really. In this Congress. In this political climate. Real reform. But, for that to happen, there has to be a conference.
Which takes us back to where we started. Senate leaders should reject the idea of bypassing a conference for the sake of expediency. They should not allow a filibuster threat by a single senator to derail a popular and important piece of legislation. They should stand strong, stand up to threats, and stand for real reform.
Making good on part of the House of Representative's commitment to increase congressional transparency, today the House Clerk's office launched http://docs.house.gov/, a one stop website where the public can access all House bills, amendments, resolutions for floor consideration, and conference reports in XML, as well as information on floor proceedings and more. Information will ultimately be published online in real time and archived for perpetuity.
The Clerk is hosting the site, and the information will primarily come from the leadership, the Committee on House Administration, the Rules Committee, and the Clerk's office. The project has been driven by House Republican leaders as part of an push for transparency. Important milestones include the adoption of the new House Rules in January 2011 that gave the Committee on House Administration the power to establish standards for publishing documents online, an April 2011 letter from the Speaker and Majority Leader to the Clerk calling for better public access to House information, a Committee on House Administration hearing in June 2011 on modernizing information delivery in the House, a December 2011 public meeting on public access to congressional information, and finally the late December adoption of online publication standards.
Today's effort focuses on House documents, but there is a similar series of requirements for committee and other documents that will be addressed as the Clerk's site is further built out. Three things strike me as particularly important for what has happened today
First, the House made a commitment to do something concrete -- publish documents online in machine-friendly formats by January 2012-- and they did that. All too often, transparency promises fall by the wayside or are beaten back by bureaucracy. This is a commitment made, and one that is being kept. (We will keep a close eye on things, just in case.)
Second, the ongoing process of releasing documents online, in real-time, and in machine-readable manner is a tremendous sea change from the slow and ponderous paper publications that are often late, fairly difficult to use, and unfriendly to computers. PDFs, by themselves, are simply insufficient for transparency purposes, and have been for a very long time, and it's important that we're moving towards making information available in such as a way as to maximize its usefulness.
Third, the House is forging ahead the best it can. It would be ideal to have the Senate joining the House in this effort, or have legislative support agencies taking the initiative, but all too often these joint efforts result in nothing happening. It's important for everyone to make the best progress they can, and that's what's happening here.
It will be fun to see when the next shoe drops.
Yesterday, members of the House of Representatives hosted a ground-breaking public discussion on how to give the public better access to congressional information. Around 300 developers, policy wonks, hill staffers, and others crowded into the Capitol Visitor Center to discuss how to use technology to make the legislative branch more open, transparent, and accessible. The event was sponsored by Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.
Matt Lira, the Director of New Media for Rep. Cantor, opened the conference by hailing it as "our television moment," hearkening back to when House proceedings were first televised so they could be watched by the American people. Steve Dwyer, Rep. Hoyer's Director of Online Community and Technology, expressed his hopes that the day's conversation posed "a new model for collaboration between Congressional staff, advocacy groups, and private companies, where we can come together and meet face-to-face over common goals." We could not agree more. Open government is the common ground shared by leaders in both political parties, and we applaud them for their herculean effort to bring people together to work on these issues.
A lot of important information about the ongoing work of the House was publicly revealed at the conference during the first hour, but equally as important, the remaining three hours had attendees break into smaller groups to tackle persistent problems, resulting in incredibly important conversations between staff, technologists, and advocates that rarely occur, and never before on this scale. Intrepid reporter Alex Howard has already published video and photographs from the presentations, and Rep. Cantor posted a short video.
One of the most edifying presentations was made by Reynold Schweickart, the technology guru for the Committee on House Administration, regarding ongoing House efforts to open itself up. Here are the highlights:
Next week the Committee on House Administration will likely hold a hearing to consider and adopt legislative data standards.
Along a similar line, the committee is working on improving/implementing legislative drafting in XML, including how to make the data more accessible internally and to outside users. (We can only hope that this includes discussion of bulk access to this information.)
There are plans to start publishing floor and committee documents in a machine readable format at permanent URLs. In addition, there will soon be naming conventions for documents that the House rules require to be made publicly available, with the goal of having permanent URLs by 2013.
GPO, which has begun publishing historic statutes at large online, will start publishing the historic slip laws as individual files, so that you can easily see (and link to) legislation as it was enacted by Congress. (I have a lot more to say about this here.)
A meeting was held with representatives from all the offices that are involved in creating and disseminating legislative data. If a true collaboration arises, what this could mean is the creation and use of data standards to describe legislation (and its constituent parts) from when it is drafted, through the amendment process, at passage, and upon codification. This would be revolutionary.
There are ongoing improvements on how video from committee hearings is recorded and made available to the public, with an emphasis on standardizing and making available meta data. (While not a lot of detail was offered, Carl Malamud, who has long advocated for broadcast quality video from the floor and committee hearings, probably has a lot to add on this issue.)
There's also ongoing efforts with respect to how constituent communications are received by members of congress, and efforts to make it easier to hire capable vendors.
Finally, there was a stated willingness to consider to what extent the House Rules need to be amended to allow technological modernization that will make the chamber more transparent.
Later on, Darrell Issa, who chairs the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, announced the launch of "Madison" -- a tool whereby the public can comment on legislation as it is being drafted. Here's a rather grainy photo. Rep. Issa explained the concept: "When a member introduces a bill, it should be interoperably commented on, and [those comments] should be part of the markup consideration. Under the Madison initiative, [interest] group's input will be noted and appreciated, and exposed to the world in real time." While similar in concept to PublicMarkup and Open Congress, the difference is that it would be managed and monitored by the office responsible for reviewing the legislation, giving the opportunity to track ideas (and influence) as it occurs. Indeed, after the conference ended, Rep. Issa's staff hosted a hackathon to help improve the tool so it can be unveiled for public use. Stay tuned.
I haven't even begun to speak about the break-out sessions, which I will briefly summarize. Participants broke into four working groups that focused on the following topics: legislative correspondence, legislative workflow and data, public relations and press relations, and casework and constituent services. We reconvened at the end of the conference to discuss our recommendations for improvements. It's too lengthy to go into here. But, on that topic, I would be remiss to not point to an earlier collaborative effort, the Open House Project, which in 2007 raised many of the same issues and outlined a series of recommendations. (And I can't resist plugging this list of ideas for improving THOMAS).
The outstanding question in my mind is: where do we go from here? Much of the conversation can continue on these open policy and technology listservs, at the hashtag #HackWeTrust, and on pages being set up by Facebook* (who sent many developers to participate in the conference). Even so, it would be great to harness this enthusiasm to hold additional events that bring together experts, staff, technologists, and advocates to address the important but complex questions of how to make the legislative branch open, transparent, and technology-friendly. Similarly, it may make sense to institutionalize this discussion as well, perhaps through working group(s), listservs, or other means.
- Updated to include the Facebook page. Also, check out this colloquy between Reps. Cantor and Hoyer that took place today and discussed yesterday's hackathon.
This Wednesday, the House of Representatives will host an unprecedented public meeting from 3:30-7:30 to discuss how the public can get better access to congressional information. While the event is called the "Congressional Facebook Hackathon," what will take place is much broader than the name suggests. Wednesday will present an opportunity for technologists and policy wonks to talk about and collaborate on improving how congressional information is made available to the public. It has important bipartisan hosts, Reps. Eric Cantor and Steny Hoyer, who deserve significant credit for coming together on this important transparency issue.
The event will start with short opening presentations by the House of Representatives on its open data initiatives and Facebook on its latest platform updates. Afterward, participants will break out into discussion groups, focusing on legislative data/workflow, constituent correspondence, casework, and press/ public relations. Of course, there will be sufficient flexibility for the conversation to follow the interests of the participants.
There have been several previous collaborative efforts by members of the transparency community to outline how the House of Representatives can be more open and accountable, of which an enduring touchstone is the Open House Project Report, issued in May 2007. It's recommendation remain relevant today:
- Legislation Database—publish legislative data in structured formats
- Preserving Congressional Information—protect congressional information through archiving and distribution
- Congressional Committees—recognize committees as a public resource by making committee information available online
- Congressional Research Service—share non-partisan research beyond Congress
- Member Web-Use Restrictions—permit members to take full advantage of internet resources
- Citizen Journalism Access—grant House access to non-traditional journalists
- The Office of the Clerk of the House—serve as a source for digital disclosure information
- The Congressional Record—maintain the veracity of a historical document
- Congressional Video—create open video access to House proceedings
- Coordinating Web Standards—commit to technology reform as an administrative priority
These issues are still outstanding. We have yet to see bulk access to THOMAS or public access to CRS reports, important legislative and ethics documents are still unavailable in digital format, many committee hearings still are not online, and so on. There has been some progress, however, including a written directive from the House leadership pledging to do more and an important Committee on House Administration hearing that hints at progress-to-come. But there is a need for more, which is being recognized by the event's hosts.
If you have not RSVP'd, there's still time. We hope that this will be the kick-off to a much broader discussion. If you want to get a head start, join in the conversation on our Open House Project listserv.
The 2012 campaign fundraising totals, covering January through June, proved record in some cases, with the total amount raised by candidates running for Senate being the highest amount ever reported for that time period in a non-election year at $103.1 million, according to an analysis done by the Federal Election Commission released yesterday.
The FEC’s release also highlighted a 15 percent increase in fundraising by candidates running for House seats in 2012. The total raised by candidates for the House was $182.1 million from January 1 through June 30, 2011. The total for that same time period in 2009 was $132 million. The total amount raised by all 2012 political candidates for the first half of the year is $285.2 million.
Comparing the data released by the FEC for the House to data released in 2009 shows some significant increases in funding for individual incumbent candidates as well. For instance, the first six months of 2011 House Speaker John Boehner proved fruitful as he brought in $6.4 million. During the same time period in 2009, the amount raised by his campaign was much smaller at just over $1 million.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor has also had an increase in fundraising this year compared to 2009, but it was not nearly as monumental as Boehner’s. Cantor raised $2.6 million in the first six months of this year, about $900,000 more than the same time period in 2009.
The FEC highlighted some significant increases in specific types of campaign fundraising as well. House freshmen incumbents – many originally running on the Tea Party platform -- reported raising $32 million through June 30 of this year, 34 percent more than the $9.5 million reported in 2009. The analysis also showed that contributions from individuals to House candidates increased by 21 percent, while contributions from political action committees (PACs) to House candidates increased by just three percent.
By guest blogger Matthew Gerring, Sunlight Labs intern The Washington Post published an article on Wednesday about the personal financial disclosures filed by members of Congress, and the data isn't surprising — the current Congress, like the last Congress, is full of millionaires.
Aside from personal wealth, top politicians in Congress, like John Boehner, raked in millions in campaign contributions during the last election cycle. Here's a look at some of the people and companies mentioned in the article:
- John Boehner, current Speaker of the House, received $6,001,138 in contributions in the last election cycle.
- Eric Cantor, House Majority Leader, received $5,557,405 in campaign contributions.
- 79% of political contributions made by Domino’s Pizza employees and political action committee went to Republicans in the 2009-10 cycle.
- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi received $2,500,575 in campaign contributions in the 2009-10 cycle.
- One of Pelosi’s top contributors, E&J Gallo Winery, contributed $12,000 to Pelosi, and 75% of its employees’ and PAC’s contributions went to Democrats.
- Paul Ryan, author of the Republican’s budget plan, received $2,836,581 in contributions in 2009-10.
- House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy may have the smallest financial holdings according to the Post, at $114,00, but his fundraising was up there with the best of them — he received $2,013,573 in campaign contributions in 2009-10.
‘Influence Explored’ takes an article from the day’s headlines and exposes the influential ways of entities mentioned in the article. Names and corporations are run through Sunlight’s influence tracking tools such as Influence Explorer and Transparency Data to remind readers of the money that powers Washington.