Are Congressional Web Sites Tools for Transparency? — 1st Update


Some 148 congressional Web sites have been researched in the first 28 hours or so since we launched our latest citizen journalism project (which needs a much snappier title than I’ve given it — how about “Investigating Congress’s Internet,” or “How Open is Congress Online,” or even, “Mirror mirror on the wall, whose congressional Web site is the most transparent of them all?”). The average score for members’ Web sites is just under 30–which is actually a little bit higher than I would have guessed, although lower than some of my colleagues expected (and less, obviously, than a passing grade).

Some citizen journalists wrote in with comments about the Web sites they frequent that suggest that members of Congress have a long way to go in offering online accountability when it comes to their sites. For example, Dale L. Sadler writes:

I visit J. Randy Forbes website regularly and can tell you that he does send out a report on voting records and upcoming votes regularly (though strangely omitting certain votes for which he may lose popularity). For instance he reported voting for the ‘alternative fuels’ act, yet it was omitted that he voted against collecting the taxes on the profits of big oil. Seems like he is into the pockets of big oil, yet there is nowhere on his website to get that information. Also there is barely a mention of the upcoming debate and vote on the antiescalation resolution.

A. J. Freeman writes,”>[Barbara] Cubin’s site conceals her agenda, shows little or nothing of the votes she has taken, only highlights so-called “events” she has either attended or sponsored (usually meetings with people with no legislative effect) and generally obfuscates what she is about. It mentions nothing about who contributes to her (namely big oil, natural gas, and coal). There is lots of info, but very little of interest to those seeking to find out what she has done for me/us, the constituent. It is a squishy-feely site with lots of links to irrelevant and “voter interest” stuff; “no, i am not looking for a switchboard to send me off to other ‘lovely’ Internet sites…”. Her “calendar” lists “events,” not votes or positions or actual lawmakers she will conference with… All in all, i’d give it a D perhaps D- (she is actually there and she does update it “often” – maybe a D+)

I should probably point out that members aren’t allowed to mention or link to campaign finance information (the idea being that they can’t use the official site to raise money, just as they can’t use their offices or staff working on the public’s dime to work on their campaigns).

Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense wrote in to share this info:

Best offices for disclosure on earmark requests are John Culberson (pdfs of actual request letters) and Jim Cooper (summary of requests and the ones that he was asked to request earmarks for but declined).

Who else uses your tax dollars to inform you of what they’re really up to in Congress? Click here to find out!