This Week in Transparency – July 10, 2009


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

Scott Simon, host of National Public Radio‘s “Weekend Edition Saturday,” interviewed Andrew Rasiej, co-founder of Personal Democracy Forum and Sunlight’s senior technology advisor, about the PDF conference held earlier that week in New York. Andrew spoke about how the digital age is redefining citizenship. Andrew also talked about what social media and technology experts have learned in the aftermath of Iran’s sham elections. You can listen to the interview here.

The Salt Lake (City) Tribune‘s Thomas Burr reported on how congressional Republicans are saying their Democratic counterparts are dragging their feet when it comes to open government. The Democrats, however, are saying they are making progress. For example, Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered that individual office expenses be posted online instead of published in tiny print in books available only in a few places; the Senate is considering filing campaign expense reports online; and a bill exists that would require bills be posted online for 72 hours before they can be voted on. Burr quotes Ellen Miller, Sunlight’s executive director, saying that if each of these three initiatives pass, it would represent dramatic change. “But Congress is hidebound in tradition and there’s a huge cultural resistance to making more data and information more open and accessible.” On the disappointing side, Ellen said, Congress continues to rush through bills before anyone has had a chance to read them, which is what happened with both the cap-and-trade energy bill and the huge stimulus bill.

Dan Eggen and Kimberly Kindy with The Washington Post used Center for Responsive Politics data to show that insurance and drug companies, as well as medical associations and hospitals have hired more than 350 former government staff members and retired congressional lawmakers as part of a $1.4 million-a-day lobbying campaign as Congress debates health reform. This revolving door sets up former government officials in lobbyist jobs, while at the same time brings former influence peddlers into government positions where they assist the interests of their former (and in many cases) future employers.

Speaking of the health care debate, The Huffington Post publishes a transcript of an interview with Wendell Potter, a former Health Insurance executive, who has become a whistleblower. The week before the interview, he testified before Congress about how insurance companies are less concerned with the health of their clients than they are their profits. Rob Kall conducted the interview for his Bottom-Up Radio show, which broadcasts to the Philadelphia Metro area on WNJC 1360 AM. In the interview, Kall mentioned that Sunlight funded, and said that “LittleSis lists the influential people, the contributors, the board of directors and what-have-you, so you can see the nexus of connections between them and the members of Congress.” Potter responded how that is “a very important point. There are a lot of intricate relationships and connections that really make a difference. It is not just when you can try to trace the money but that is just one part of it; there are a lot of other ways that influence is peddled in Washington and elsewhere.”

Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff reports on the questions raised by Chevron having named an award after Richard Holbrooke, the veteran foreign-policy expert and current Obama administration official. Isikoff quotes Ellen, “This is a huge conflict of interest. Clearly, [Holbrooke] has lent his imprimatur-as somebody in a high-level position in the government-to two corporations that have business before the government. This shows a remarkable insensitivity” to ethical concerns.

Think Progress highlights and links to Party Time‘s post about Reps. John Shimkus (Ill.) and Jean Schmidt (Ohio), long-time foes of gay rights (scoring 0 from the Human Rights Campaign in the 110th Congress), holding fundraisers at the upcoming July 11 Billy Joel/Elton John concert in Washington.

At The Huffington Post, Arthur Delany wrote about using Party Time‘s database of congressional fundraisers to locate and crash a fundraising dinner party for Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.). Jim Galloway, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s “Political Insider” columnist, and Talking Points Memo‘s community blog highlighted Delany’s post.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Louise Radnofsky reported on the Obama administration awarding the software company Smartronix $18 million to redesign, the federal Web site intended to track where federal Recovery Act spending goes. Radnofsky notes that Sunlight Labs initially tried to offer to help the administration run the Web site, and also called for more information about what Smartronix will be providing. “We don’t know what government has bought, whether it’s cheeseburgers or steaks,” she quotes Clay Johnson, director of Sunlight Labs, as saying. “If is meant to track every single dime of the stimulus money, shouldn’t they start with themselves?” Gautham Nagesh at NextGov also wrote about the contract and quotes Clay. “What we want is to make this process more open to people,” Clay said. Sunlight’s top priority for is ensuring that the raw reporting data is available to the public in a machine-readable format, he added.

Along the same lines, Aliya Sternstein at NextGov reported that the board responsible for overseeing stimulus spending said that the public would have access to the same machine-readable data that updates Sternstein quotes Gary Bass, director of OMB Watch, saying open government advocates are adamant that the public have access to the same data feeds that is used to update charts, tables and maps on Rights to the data are critical for transparency because obtaining content through an intermediary, rather than from the primary source, creates the possibility the data might have been manipulated, Gary said.