Calls and Calendars for Congress?


Yesterday, the Associated Press reported on regular phone calls made from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to CEOs of the nation’s largest banks and big shots in the financial services industry.

While the AP story focuses on the results of the examination after they obtained the records, when it comes to transparency, the fact that the AP was able to obtain the records at all is perhaps even more important. In this case, the AP was able to obtain Geithners phone records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and in so doing, got a “behind-the-scenes glimpse at the continued influence of three companies…”

Now imagine if members of Congress kept these same kind of records and we could ask for access to them? Or even better: your member of Congress voluntarily shared what they were doing and who they were meeting with you…

We elect them; we pay them; and in the same way our organizational calendars are often shared with our bosses, how much more would you trust your member of Congress if s/he did the same?

The Sunlight Foundation and the transparency movement at large have long advocated for access to calendars of elected and appointed officials who are making big decisions that affect all Americans’ lives – and putting those calendars online in as close to real-time as possible. A crucial part of holding our government officials accountable is understanding how they are influenced, and being able to see who our governmental leaders are receiving money from and who they are meeting with is part of that influence.

And we’ve seen some progress.

Senator Max Baucus and a handful of other Congresspersons have voluntarily posted their daily schedules online for months – and because we copy and database those calendars every day, we were recently able to look at all the meetings with lobbyists Baucus has had so far this year.

Certainly there are some meetings that need to remain private, but the conversation should start by default with disclosure and openness, and THEN limit based on security. NOT the other way around.

Online, real-time disclosure of who, what, where, when and how people are seeking to influence our government, how our elected and governmental representatives are carrying out their public duties, and how our tax dollars are being spent will enable a healthy dynamic of rising public attention and engagement in demanding more accountability from government.

We have a long way to go for real transparency and consequent accountability to become reality in Congress at large, and it’s only through folks like you that we will ultimately achieve it.

Just in case we haven’t told you recently, we’re very excited to know that there are people like you reading our blog and taking action when you can to help get us there (and maybe even more excited that there’s so many more of us than ever before!).

What are the things you’d like to see Congress release to you? What is a way you wish you could hold your Representative or Senator accountable but can’t currently?