This Week In Transparency – June 26, 2009


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

CNN interviewed Ellen Miller, Sunlight’s executive director, in an article on lobbyists and the need for disclosure of their interactions with congressional lawmakers and other federal officials.

Katharine Q. Seelye at The New York Times reported on the fact that, five months into his administration, President Obama has signed two dozen bills, but he has almost never waited the five days, as he promised during his election campaign. She noted how open government and other watchdog groups have criticized the president for not living up to his pledge. Seelye quotes Ellen as saying it’s less important for the president to wait before signing a bill than it is for the Congress to wait 72 hours before voting on it. “There isn’t anybody in this town who doesn’t know that commenting after a bill has been passed is meaningless.” The article also has an accompanying video.

Politico‘s Victoria McGrane reported on how the Senate is considering putting all their office expenses — including staff salaries — online, as well as requiring campaign fundraising reports to be published on the Web. The mere fact that the Senate leadership has conducted a whip count is an encouraging sign for the reforms’ passage, McGrane writes. And she quotes Lisa Rosenberg, Sunlight’s , “They wouldn’t be talking about bringing it up for a vote if it wasn’t pretty solid.”

The Washington Examiner reports on Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington calling on the Obama administration to release the names of health care executives who have visited the White House. “If you are going to criticize other people for secrecy, you better have an open door,” said Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director. “They talk about transparency more than they exhibit it.”

Brian Wingfield at wrote about the health care reform debate and linked to Sunlight’s senior writer Paul Blumenthal‘s blog post about former senators Tom Daschle and Bob Dole releasing a health care plan while being health care lobbyists.

Lisa Wangsness with The Boston Globe reported on bloggers from the medical, technology, and patient advocacy worlds organizing to win the right of patients to gain access to their computerized health records from their doctors in an electronic format. She quotes the Center for Democracy & Technology’s Deven McGraw noting that federal law already entitles patients to easy, inexpensive access to their health records in whatever format they exist. Too often, she said, patients, doctors, and hospitals are not aware of the law. She added that Congress included $19 billion in the stimulus package for electronic medical records systems. Patients and their doctors need to have a clearer understanding of that right, she said.

The New York Times picked up Anne C. Mulkern’s Greenwire piece on how money has helped to grease the skids of the Cap and Trade Energy Bill on Capitol Hill. The report used data from the Center for Responsive Politics to show how industry with a stake in the legislation has attempted to influence the vote in their favor.

Sunlight’s concern over how fast the energy bill Congress is moving the generated a number of editorials in support of our position. The (St. Paul, Minn.) Pioneer Press editorialized about the energy bill, “Has anybody read those 1,200 pages?” The editorial says “it is a big deal,” and the “virtues of transparency don’t apply only to the work of one’s opponents. If the price of broader public understanding of major legislation is a slower process, good.” And the editorial ended with, “To our friends at the Sunlight Foundation, we say: Keep the pressure on.” The Chicago Tribune also editorialized about Cap and Trade. “Remember that gargantuan climate change bill we told you about last week? It’s gotten bigger. Over the weekend, the bill grew from 946 pages to 1,201 pages, according to the Sunlight Foundation. It’s still changing, with important amendments in flux. And The (Riverside, Calif.) Press-Enterprise wrote a Cap and Trade editorial as well that used many of Sunlight’s talking points.

ReadWriteWeb‘s Marshal Kirkpatrick wrote about the U.S. Office of Management and Budget issuing new reporting guidelines this week for recipients of the $787 billion Recovery Act. “The normally polite geek watchdog organization the Sunlight Foundation has come out swinging,” Kirkpatrick wrote, referencing Ellen’s blog post from yesterday where she called it a “significant failure” on the part of the administration by not living up to its promise for full and complete disclosure. Kirkpatrick also mentions how the Senate is now offering mashup-friendly XML (extensible markup language) feeds for Senate voting history. He lifted quotes from Sunlight’s policy director John Wonderlich from a Politico article from April on the arguments against the chamber offering the voting history in XML. “The secretary of the Senate has cited a general standing policy that they’re not supposed to present votes in a comparative format, that senators have the right to present their votes however they want to.”

Speaking of the OMB’s new reporting guidelines,’s Aliya Sternstein noted other problems. The latest guidance does not include previous instructions from an earlier incarnation directing agencies to configure news feeds that would allow citizens to receive automatic updates. She interviewed Craig Jennings from OMB Watch, who said for standardization purposes, “it does make sense that there is some restriction to the raw data . . . to make sure [that, for example,] ‘assn’ equals association, ‘Boeing Inc.’ is the same as Boeing Incorporation.”