Is the Senate Getting the Message?


As my colleague John Wonderlich wrote here, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her intention to put House office expenditures online. Now we hear that the Senate may be following the House’s lead and posting their expenditures soon as well. It would be great to see the technology reticent Senate follow the House’s lead, and we would hope to see the Senate take the idea one step further and publish their Statements of Disbursements in a searchable, downloadable format, as we called for in our Transparency in Government Act. Only then will citizens have access to a full and detailed accounting of how Members spend the taxpayer funds that they receive to run their offices.

Making this information available online should raise nothing more than a few perfunctory objections from old school senators. The information is supposed to be public already, albeit in four-pound tomes available only in federal depository libraries. At Sunlight, we always say that “public means online.” By taking the simple step of making disbursements available on the Internet, the Senate would demonstrate that, as an institution, it is starting to get our message.

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  • Lisa Rosenberg

    Thanks for wondering. To address your first point, Congress should not have to charge the taxpayer anything as this information is already being created. It shouldn’t take to much staff time, money or effort to post it online.

    To address your second point, posting statements of disbursements online will vastly increase transparency by taking these required forms out of dusty library basements and putting them online where folks like you can find out exactly how members are spending their taxpayer allotted office funds.

    Finally, in the vast majority of cases, the information is likely to be accurately reported by Members, who have nothing to gain and would face incredibly bad publicity if they were discovered lying about their expenditures. (Reporters already dig through the paper copies of the statements.) Moreover, requiring the information be posted online makes it less likely that someone will “cook the books” because of the scrutiny the information will receive.

  • Mirta Morales

    I don’t mean to be hopeless, but I have to wonder:

    1. How much will Congress charge the tax payer to implement this service, including how much extra staff time will this take?

    2. How transparent will this really be when most of our Congressmen and Women are really good at keeping things out of the public’s eye? Just another system for them to get around…

    3. How much of the information will be true and accurate? I doubt the lobster lunch they go to will be included on this site.