Local Sunlight


Every week I climb into the depths of the local political blogosphere to find the Sunlight. I use this series to highlight local blogs that do a great job of covering local, state, and Congressional political news.  This week I have highlights from Pennsylvania, Tennessee, New Jersey, Maryland, and Louisiana. In Pennsylvania, Policy blog describes how much the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission spent on lobbying this past fiscal year.  Is it okay for government agencies to use public funds to lobby other government agencies?

In Tennessee, Underdog looks into the lobbying expenses of the GoodYear Tire company and finds some interesting facts about what the company lobbies for and what former hill staffers are now on their pay rolls.

In New Jersey, Blog the Fifth has a great post looking into an earmark Rep. Garrett got for police training.  He makes the point that because of the lack of transparency of earmark requests and how the press sometimes refers to them as “grants” it can make the earmark look bad no matter where it goes to.  That is why we advocate for earmark request transparency.

In Maryland, Brian Griffiths uncovered that one of the appointees for Maryland’s Board of Education was an unregistered lobbyist.  This information was not disclosed to the public and Brian questions why they were given the position even though they have no previous experience in education.

In Louisiana, Between the Lines talks about how most of the members of the Louisiana ethics board resigned after changes to the rules created stricter ethical standards.

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  • Al Ortiz


    Make transparency city’s policy

    The Baltimore Examiner Newspaper

    Trying to find a city contract in Baltimore City is like trying to find one in a black hole. You need the contract number or some other specific information, like the date it was approved. Forget about asking how much money, for example, a particular city contractor has received in the last 10 years from taxpayers. And since no records are digital, you must show up in person to ask.

    Want to listen to a City Council hearing? Go to Goodwill and try to find a Walkman, because the only way to do so is via cassette tape. We’re not kidding. It is 1980-something in Baltimore City.

    So City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway’s (D-7) proposal to make available all city disbursements online in an easily searchable database is something revolutionary only in Baltimore. Other jurisdictions are way ahead. The state just passed legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support to put all state spending above $25,000 online on a searchable Web site starting in January, and other counties are following suit, including Howard, whose version will come online in 2010. The federal government makes its spending available online at http://www.usaspending.gov, thanks to legislation co-sponsored by Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

    Some people have asked Conaway if the legislation is aimed at hurting Mayor Sheila Dixon, under investigation for allegedly taking bribes from an ex-lover who received tax breaks while she was City Council president. It’s not. It’s about ensuring that “taxpayers know they are being represented well by their elected officials,” as Conaway said.

    Conaway should ask Del. Warren Miller (R-Howard), who sponsored the state legislation, and Howard County Councilman Greg Fox (R-5), who sponsored Howard County’s legislation, for help in drafting the bill and outlining how to pay for it and to set up the technology to make it happen.

    Ensuring taxpayers have easy access to city spending will make it easier for residents to understand and participate in local government, deter fraud and help our elected officials to save money. As Del. Miller noted in an opinion piece earlier this year, “After Texas passed a transparency law in 2007, state Comptroller Susan Combs estimated a savings of $2.3 million in her office alone. Much of the savings came from combining multiple contracts for the same services and from eliminating contracts for products the office no longer needed but was unaware it was purchasing. The vast size of state government often means the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. The greater oversight created by transparency laws effectively eliminates this problem.” The same is true of city government.

    City Council members should wholeheartedly endorse her legislation at the July 22 meeting and pass it at the earliest possible date.