This Week in Transparency – July 31, 2009


Here are some of the more interesting media mentions of Sunlight and our friends and allies over the past week:

National Journal‘s Eliza Newlin Carney wrote about how the health care industry is unleashing big money as the health care debate in Congress intensifies. She notes the blog post from Paul Blumenthal, Sunlight’s senior writer, about how five of Sen. Max Baucus‘ (Mont.) former staff members now work for a total of 27 different organizations that either represent the health care or insurance industries, or have a vested interest in the debate. She also quotes Paul, “We thought it was important to show the public that the senators aren’t crafting the policy by themselves. They have all these other connections, through relationships, that have a huge stake in this legislation.” Trudy Lieberman with the Columbia Journalism Review also highlighted and linked to Paul’s post and the graphic he and Kerry Mitchell, Sunlight’s creative director, produced. The “study shows exactly what advocates of real and substantive health reform are up against,” Lieberman wrote, adding that Sunlight provides clarity on just who has the senator’s ear.

Speaking of Kerry’s graphic art skills, The New York Times‘ “First Look” blog includes one of his illustrations in a post highlighting great visualizations created by designers using the Times APIs that “both beautify and clarify information.” Kerry’s graphic illustrates the Times’ usage of the word “transparency” since 1990.

David Talbot at MIT’s Technology Review, in an article how volunteers are using the Web to help make the U.S. government more accountable, highlighted Transparency Corps. Talbot quoted Clay Johnson, director of Sunlight Labs, “Government puts out a ton of data that is really interesting about what it does, but people can’t understand it.” Transparency Corps launch roughly coincided with the launch earlier this month of the White House’s IT Dashboard, the administration’s effort to chart the progress of information-technology projects in various federal agencies. The article quotes Andrew Rasiej, Sunlight’s senior technology advisor and co-founder of Personal Democracy Forum, saying the dashboard may be just the tip of the iceberg heralding a new age of transparency regarding federal spending. “Once people get used to this type of information being so readily accessible, they will demand to see (it) for all other federal spending too, and then the genie will be completely out of the bottle.”

Dan Eggen at The Washington Post wrote how the debate about health-care reform has been a boon to the political fortunes of the 52 members of the Blue Dog Coalition, who have become key brokers in shaping legislation in the House. Eggan used Party Time data to show show U.S. Rep. Mike Ross (Ark.), a leader of the Blue Dogs, has had a steady schedule of fundraising events sponsored by the health industry or lobbying firms that represent health-care companies. Eggen used data from the Center for Responsive Politics that showed Ross had received nearly $1 million in contributions from the health-care sector and insurance industry during his five terms in Congress. On the topic of Party Time, be sure not to miss National Journal‘s interview with Party Time’s director Nancy Watzman.

The (Riverside, Calif.) Press-Enterprise quotes data from Taxpayers for Common Sense that shows the $636 billion military spending bill passed Thursday by the House contains 1,100 earmarks totaling roughly $2.75 billion. Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.) inserted 19 earmarks worth more than $70 million for defense firms with Inland Southern California branches and other area institutions, according to Taxpayers.

Joe Davidson, “Federal Diary” columnist for The Washington Post, wrote about how 10 years of work paid off Wednesday when the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs advanced S. 372, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2009, meant to further protect federal whistleblowers. Because of important differences between the House and the Senate on the bill, there was real concern that the legislation would flounder. But “shuttle diplomacy” conducted by the Obama White House “left those involved feeling as if they gained more than they gave up,” Davidson wrote. He quoted Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, “There were genuine concerns that people worked through. It’s the way you want government to work.”

PC World reports on a call from the Center for Democracy and Technology to the Obama administration to answer several questions about the privacy implications of a new version of a computer intrusion detection system that can reportedly read email. On Tuesday, CDT released a report (PDF) calling on the administration to provide information about the legal authority for the so-called Einstein intrusion detection system currently being employed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Resource Shelf, a daily newsletter with resources of interest to information professionals, educators and journalists, highlighted OpenCongress‘ redesign. “If you or those you work with have any interest in the workings of the U.S. Congress and related matters, OpenCongress is one impressive (and free) resource,” the post says. “We strongly recommend taking a look at it.”