This Week In Transparency – June 5, 2009

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

Late last Friday, National Public Radio ran a piece by Andrea Seabrook about the Obama administration’s “Open Government Initiative,” a three-part process to craft recommendations on open government. Seabrook quotes Ellen Miller, Sunlight’s executive director, saying the government should make it a priority to get the most important information up sooner. “And, in my mind, you got – priority data is the data that affects the public trust in its institutions. So, you know, personal financial disclosures, lobbying reports – there are many lobbying reports that are found in the Justice Department that have never seen the light of day. That is to say, they’re not online – that being the definition of light of day in the 21st century.”

The second phase of the White House’s Open Government Initiative was a “brainstorming” session where the administration invited the public to submit ideas on how to achieve and sustain an unprecedented level of openness in government. The administration then encouraged participants to vote up or down on the ideas. They received 900 submissions and 33,000 votes on various ideas. House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (Ohio) submission to require Congress to honor a 72-hour public review period before voting on major spending bills ended up as one of the most popular, receiving nearly 1,000 votes. Roll Call (subscription required) and Federal Computer Week quote from Boehner’s statement noting Sunlight’s support for the 72-hour rule.

As normal, major press outlets depended on data from the Center for Responsive Politics to expose the power and influence of big money in Washington. The Wall Street Journal reported that in the first three months of 2009, the financial industry spent $27.6 million on lobbying and made $286,000 in campaign contributions to Congressional lawmakers. One industry goal was to get Congress to amend certain financial rules. So far, The Journal reported, they’ve succeeded in loosening one key accounting regulation and are working to get ride of it altogether. The Washington Post used CRP data to show the growing influence of tech titans Google, Microsoft, AT&T and Verizon. The same article mentions that the Center for Digital Democracy wrote to the White House protesting the Obama administration’s appointment of Google’s top lobbyist to the position of deputy technology officer. “We believe no special-interest connected person should assume a position of vital importance to the country’s future,” they wrote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s directive to enforce a new level of disclosure for official expenditures from the offices of House lawmakers and to post the documents online as soon as possible generated a number of mentions of Sunlight’s support for the move. National Journal’s “Tech Daily Dose” blog links to a blog post written by John Wonderlich, Sunlight’s policy director about the matter. They mention that Sunlight called for online disclosure of the expense records in December 2008 and again last week. T.W. Farnam, writing at The Wall Street Journal’s “Washington Wire” blog, noted Sunlight’s support for expenditure disclosure. He also quotes John saying “public accountability for member expenses comes with online access, which is a big change from an underground office.” CQ Politics’ Bart Jansen, in writing about Pelosi’s directive, quoted from John’s post, “Speaker Pelosi’s move should be interpreted as a recognition that public information — even potentially embarrassing information about how members spend public funds — should be truly accessible to the general public, which means online.”

In a post titled, “Visualizing how a dirty Congresscritter turned campaign contributions into earmarks,” Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow highlights and links to a blog post written by Paul Blumenthal, Sunlight’s senior writer, and a graphic created by Kerry Mitchell, sunlight’s creative director, that illustrates U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky’s (Indiana) connection to a lobbying firm, the PMA Group, which represented many of the recipients of federal money earmarked by the congressman. Mark Tapscott, editorial page editor at The Washington Examiner, wrote in a blog post, “If this graphic doesn’t persuade critics that earmarks are the key to the culture of corruption that dominates Congress, I don’t know what else will.”

The Associated Press’ Andrew Miga wrote about how the spouses of congressional lawmakers and other politically-connected figures are coming under increasing scrutiny, especially those in high-profile, high-paying jobs. Miga quotes Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, saying conflicts can arise when both spouses work. “High-powered people are often likely to be married to other high-powered people.”

Katharine Q. Seelye, writing at The New York Times’ “The Lede” blog, reported on the Supreme Court’s plans to redesign and update their Web site. She quotes from and links to a blog post written by Daniel Schuman, Sunlight’s policy counsel, and a mock redesign of the Court’s site created by Ali Felski, Sunlight Labs’ senior designer. Fast Company‘s Cliff Kuang highlighted Ali’s mockup and links to Daniel’s post. Kuang also links to the mockups for USA.gov, FEC.gov, EPA.gov and Data.gov Sunlight Labs has created.

Thanks and see you next Friday!

Mike

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