We’ve gotten some great feedback on planning the next round of our Congressional Family Business investigation, both from inside the office, from some of the folks who made the first round such a success, and from some smart observers (thanks to David Cohn for posting that at Digg!).
We’re starting to design phase two now (what this means in practice is that I get to keep bothering our Sunlight Labs geniuses with questions that begin with cringe-inducing phrases like, “How quickly could you…” or “How hard would it be to…” or “Would it be possible to…”). I’m really excited about round two; and even though we won’t be able to incorporate all the excellent suggestions we’ve gotten right away, this step will include some of your ideas while also giving us the building blocks to do some never-before-seen investigations, like figuring out whether spouses work for companies or organizations that have gotten federal contracts or grants (something our friends at OMB Watch have made possible through FedSpending.org), or for firms that lobby or hire lobbyists to influence Congress.
If you need a reminder as to why this is important, look no further than this USAToday story focusing on relatives of members and staff working for just two committees of Congress, the House Appropriations Committee and its Senate counterpart:
Lobbying groups employed 30 family members last year to influence spending bills that their relatives with ties to the House and Senate appropriations committees oversaw or helped write, a USA TODAY investigation found. Combined, they generated millions of dollars in fees for themselves or their firms.
The connections are so pervasive that, in 2005 alone, appropriations bills contained about $750 million for projects championed by lobbyists whose relatives were involved in writing the spending bills.
Again, that’s two committees, $750 million in one year. And that could be a low figure (I say this on the basis of what a dogged researcher with Taxpayers for Common Sense, who have as much experience as anyone else in ferreting out earmarks, once told me: Even after all their efforts, there are usually some big earmarks in Defense Appropriations or Defesne Authorization bills that they can’t tie to a member or a company). Imagine what we’ll find when we cover the rest of Congress…