This Week in Transparency – August 14, 2009


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

Jonathan D. Salant and Lizzie O’Leary with have an article showing how there are six lobbyists attempting to influence the health care reform debate for each of the 535 members of the House and Senate. That figure is three times the number of lobbyists registered to lobby on defense. They used data from the Center for Responsive Politics to illustrate how every one of the 10 biggest lobbying firms by revenue is attempting to influence the debate on behalf of some interest or another, spending $263.4 million on lobbying during the first six months of 2009 alone. They quote Bill Allison, Sunlight’s senior fellow, “Whenever you have a big piece of legislation like this, it’s like ringing the dinner bell for K Street.” Multiple other outlets picked up the article and Bill’s quote, including Kate Barrett at ABC News. And David Schechter, CNN‘s senior national editor, wrote a column about the lobbying feeding frenzy surrounding the health care reform debate. He lists Sunlight and as good sources for information on the “lobbying largesse.”

In light of the increasingly heated debate over how to reform health care policy, Lisa Stone at BlogHer wrote about the new partnership between BlogHer and OpenCongress, the joint project between the Participatory Politics Foundation and Sunlight, to provide a forum to move the discourse in a more civil and positive direction. They have asked Nancy Watzman, Sunlight’s director of the Party Time project, to share her investigations on their site multiple times a week. Be sure to check their coverage out, which starts today.

Writing at Forbes, Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, wrote about what he calls the promise of innovation provided by Government 2.0. And he asked, “How does government itself become an open platform that allows people inside and outside government to innovate?” O’Reilly points to the Apps for America contests as an example of the “virtuous circle of citizen innovation” using the information made available through the White House’s PC World published a piece by Grant Gross with IDB News Service on how the contest is asking developer to use the raw data released on and elsewhere to demonstrate the power of data-publishing and number-crunching services. Gross discussed with Clay Johnson, Sunlight Labs’ director, about how the Labs works to assist traditional and citizen journalists with investigative reporting. “As the Obama administration begins to release more data, there aren’t enough fingers on keyboards here in Sunlight Labs to handle all this,” Clay said. “Has the Obama administration succeeded in making more government data available? You’re talking to the guy with the most unquenchable thirst for that, who will never say that they’re successful.”

The Boston Globe‘s “Political Notebook” column makes note of two of Sunlight’s closest friends, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Center for Responsive Politics, teaming up to create a database showing campaign cash to congressional lawmakers and the earmarks that they requested. Taxpayers is providing the data showing more than 20,000 earmarks totaling more than $35 billion. And CRP has detailed $227 million in campaign donations and lobbying expenses. The article quotes Ryan Alexander, Taxpayer’s president, “Earmarks and campaign contributions are part and parcel of the pay-to-play system that permeates Washington…Companies making thousands of dollars in campaign contributions get millions of earmarked taxpayer dollars from lawmakers.” The database can be searched here.

Speaking of earmarks, Greenwire’s Anne C. Mulkern wrote about how lawmakers, while crafting legislation meant to finance the Department of Energy, inserted $75.2 million in earmarks for research at schools and universities in their home states and districts. Mulkern quotes Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, questioning the use of earmarks to fund research. “The gold standard in academic research is peer-reviewed analysis,” Ellis said. “Picking the winners and losers based on geography and not who has conducted the best research is a recipe for wasting precious taxpayer dollars.”  The New York Times republished Mulkern’s article.

FederalNewsRadio‘s Max Cacas reported on the Project on Government Oversight‘s (POGO) new guide, “The Art of Congressional Oversight: A Users Guide to Doing it Right.” The 83-page volume contains insights into how to be a successful congressional committee investigator, Cacas writes. POGO put on paper what they’ve been teaching over the past three years via monthly training sessions, free lunchtime skill-building seminars designed to educate Hill staffers about their rights, responsibilities and powers working in the realm of congressional oversight. The trainings and book are part of POGO’s effort to teach congressional staffers about the constitutionally-mandated jobs of Congress — providing oversight over the cabinet-level agencies and other organizations within the executive branch.

Special note: As National Journal‘s “Hotline On Call” pointed out on their list of upcoming weekend public policy programming, Ellen Miller, Sunlight’s executive director, will be appearing on C-SPAN’s “Communicators” program Saturday evening at 6:30 p.m. (EST).