Last week Sunlight launched a free promotional service for bloggers — and diarists on their sites — who are writing about what’s going on in Congress. Our goal is to help bring attention to bloggers and the wisdom of the crowds who are flocking to these sites, particularly those sites that have yet to be discovered by the MSM.
While we are doing our best to monitor the blogoshere, to really make this work, bloggers and their readers have to let us know what they are writing about. So if you are a blogger, or just an avid reader of one, and you know of posts about members of Congress — information that brings to light news about a Member of Congress that his or her constituents should know — send us the link! We’re specifically interested in information about ties between lawmakers and lobbyists, questions about Members’ relationships with fundraisers or special interests, and examples of lawmakers going to bat for local special interests that remain below the radar screen of the mainstream news media. No one knows their own Congressperson the way local bloggers do.
We’ll take a look at your posting, and after doing a bit of fact-checking, we’ll draft up a press release that we will run by you for approval. Then we’ll get it right out to targeted reporters. We’ll also make pitch calls.
Here’s how it works. Last week a diarist on TalkingPointsMemo Cafe, uncovered a startling Congressional earmark — as part of a project launched by the Sunlight Foundation and other organizations — which seems to personally benefit a small number of lobbyists. Her post is here.
The blogger, who wants to remain anonymous other than her online name of "Mrs. Panstreppon," was struck by an earmark of $1,175,000 for the "Friends of the Congressional Glaucoma Caucus Foundation" in the Fiscal Year 2007 Labor, Heath and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill. She dug further and discovered that the foundation was created by a Washington healthcare lobbyist, S. J. "Bud" Grant, in late 1999.
Mrs. Panstreppon looked up the Foundation’s tax filing, which revealed immense personal profit from the Foundation by Grant, another lobbyist, and possibly a former aide to a senior Member of Congress.
Despite a relatively small amount in revenue ($5 million), Grant has commanded a salary and benefits from the Foundation of around $400,000. The Treasurer of the Foundation, Robert Bishop, also a lobbyist, earns $114,000 in pay for only 20 hours of work per week. Another consultant, Sharmon Paschal Thornton, makes $122,500 in consulting fees from the Foundation. A person named Sharmon Thornton was once a legislative aide to Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, though it is not clear that the consultant for the Foundation is the same one.
Mrs. Panstreppon began researching the appropriations legislation after learning about Sunlight’s "Exposing Earmarks" project, which, along with numerous other organizations, is encouraging citizens to shine light on each of the nearly 2,000 earmarks currently contained in the FY 2007 Labor, HHS, and Education appropriations legislation.
A couple days after her post, we sent out a press release. Yesterday, there were several media inquiries about Mrs. Panstreppon’s work, including one by USA Today. We’re keeping our fingers crossed about whether they pick up the story and develop it further.
Think of this new service from Sunlight as having your own PR shop without paying a dime.