Weekly Media Roundup – May 8, 2009


Today, May 8th, marks the 125th birthday of Harry S Truman, our 33rd president. He once said, “Secrecy and a free, democratic government don’t mix.” Amen, Mr. President.

Here are a few of the more interesting media mentions of Sunlight and our friends and grantees from this week:

Monday morning, Tom Lee, a technology director at Sunlight, appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” taking questions about Recovery.gov, the Web site set up to track spending under the federal government’s economic stimulus program. Tom is working on SubsidyScope, a project of The Pew Charitable Trusts, that looks at the role of federal subsidies in the economy. Below is the video of the segment:

Speaking of Recovery.gov, Matt Kelley with USA Today reported that the Web site won’t have details on contracts and grants until October and may not be complete until next spring — halfway through the program. Kelley quotes Greg Elin, Sunlight’s chief evangelist, saying people accustomed to getting easily searchable information quickly could be frustrated. “If we have to wait until October to get the information or to the end of the year to get a powerful recovery.gov site, the Obama administration will have missed an important opportunity.”

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, in an op-ed titled “Ways to Protect Our Democracy,” highlights the work of Sunlight and Sunlight Labs, and mentions the Apps for America contest. Vanden Heuvel quotes Gabriela Schneider, “This is the next generation of civic engagement…We see it as a way to revitalize democracy. The transparency work is a catalyst for the greater democracy reform movement.”

The U.S. Senate announced this week that it was going to start publishing roll call votes in XML, an online format that’s easily reusable by other programs. XML allows the data to be manipulated and organized in such a way that public interest groups can get a much more thorough picture of Senate voting patterns. In writing about the move, the Politico’s  Victoria McGrane quoted John Wonderlich, Sunlight’s policy director, as saying the Senate’s decision was “spectacular.” The Examiner newspapers editorialized that the move signals the Senate had finally joined the 21st Century. As encouraging and important as this step by the Senate is, I’d hold off on that designation until senators start disclosing campaign finance data online and in a timely manner.

The New York Times’ Stephanie Strom highlighted the campaign to get Congress to release to the public Congressional Research Service reports, highlighting the efforts of Open CRS, Center for Democracy and Technology, OpentheGovernment.org and Sunlight.

Jeanne Cummings at the Politico wrote about “lobbyist contact” disclosures posted on government department and agency Web sites. She made note of a review conducted by Paul Blumenthal, Sunlight’s senior writer, that found only 14 of a possible 29 departments and agencies have created Web pages to disclose lobbyist inquiries. On March 20, President Obama issued a memo to all agencies involved with the distribution of funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act requiring them to disclose all communications between lobbyists and agency officials. John Fritze with USA Today wrote that Obama’s effort to make lobbying more transparent has shed little light on the behind-the-scenes, special-interests lobbying thus far. He quotes Melanie Sloan, director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, “We’re looking to have more disclosure, not less. If this was supposed to give us more disclosure, why is it that you’re not seeing lobbyist communications?”

Mother Jones‘ Jonathan Stein profiled Lisa Rosenberg, Sunlight’s government affairs consultant, terming her “K Street’s worst nightmare” and “the lobbyist lobbyists hate.” He wrote that Lisa is “not your average influence peddler,” but does the “unthinkable” by lobbying for more oversight and regulation of lobbying. Stein quotes Lisa, “I have no friends…My lobbyist colleagues are cringing at the things that I do.”

Joshua Zumbrun at Forbes.com wrote about six ways Uncle Sam can help rescue newspapers. One of his proposals is for the government to help ease newspapers into nonprofit status, citing the Center for Responsive Politics and the Center for Public Integrity as examples of nonprofit organizations that are already making an impact.

Thanks, and see you next Friday!