This Week in Transparency – August 28, 2009

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

CQ Politics‘ Richard Rubin reports how House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (N.Y.), already beset by a series of ethics investigations, recently disclosed more than $500,000 in previously unreported assets. Rubin notes that earlier this year, Bill Allison, Sunlight’s senior fellow, found similar problems with Rangel’s previous disclosure reports. According to Bill’s analysis, Rangel failed to report purchases, sales or his ownership of assets at least 28 times since 1978 on his personal financial disclosure forms. Assets worth between $239,026 and $831,000 appeared and disappeared with no disclosure of when they were acquired, how long they were held or when they were sold, as House rules require. “I understand being sloppy, missing an asset once or twice,” Bill said. “But what this shows is he doesn’t take financial disclosure seriously. How else can you year after year have these inaccuracies? It doesn’t look like there is a lot of care put it into compared to other members. It makes people suspicious when all of a sudden you double your wealth. Without knowing how a member accumulated that wealth, people are going to ask questions.” The New York Times‘ David Kocieniewski reported on Rangel’s discrepancies and quotes Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, saying the New York lawmaker’s haphazard approach to his finances had undermined his credibility in Congress. “Sloppy bookkeeping is not a valid excuse for a sophisticated member of Congress who is chairman of the committee that handles complex financial issues like the tax code,” she said. Glenn Reynolds, at his popular “Instapundit” blog, has followed the various Rangel stories and picks up on Bill’s Real Time Investigations post responding to the CQ Politics report.

Halimah Abdullah, with McClatchy Newspapers, reported on a study conducted by the Center for Public Integrity that found more than half the $1.1 million in campaign contributions the Democratic Party’s Blue Dog Coalition received so far this year came from the pharmaceutical, health care and health insurance industries. The report cites Center for Responsive Politics data to show how, on average, Blue Dog Democrats net $62,650 more from the health sector than other Democrats, while hospitals and nursing homes also favor them, giving, respectively, $5,680 and $5,550 more. Abdullah used Party Time data to show how coalition members are raising campaign cash at fundraisers.  McClatchy papers across the country ran the story.

Wired‘s “Epicenter” blog highlighted the Apps for America 2 contest finalists. Government Computer News quotes Clay Johnson, Sunlight Labs’ director, discussing the finalists.

Russia Today reported on ProPublica’s and Sunlight’s Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker, which allows anyone to search the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) to quickly learn what governments are lobbying our government and about what. “It’s amazing how much lobbyist really do have an impact on public policy,” Bill Allison is quoted as saying. “You can follow lobbying campaigns online and see policies changing.” The whole interview can be listened to here. The blog of the Legal Times also highlighted the Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker, which they write “creates ways to search those records by legislator contacted, country, lobbying firm, client and issue. Previously, the filings were only available online via a Department of Justice Web site as non-searchable .pdf files.”

MAPLight.org launched Money Near Votes, “a new government transparency tool making it easy to track special-interest contributions to legislators given within a month, a week, or a day of when a vote occurred.” This new tool promises a new level of transparency by honing in on the role special interests play in shaping public policy. “Never before have these ‘well-timed’ campaign donations been highlighted in such an exhaustive, easy-to-locate format,” MAPLight asserts.

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