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Sunlight Labs weighs in on Earmark bill

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In yesterday’s Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs meeting, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said that portions of the bill were far too complex and were not able to be aggregated.

Not so, said Sunlight Foundation’s Web Developer Kaitlin Lee.

“If they’re already taking earmark request digitally, then have a database engineer on staff export the data tables,” Lee said.

“Senator Levin might think it’s a huge data curation process or a manual process. But if it’s already electronic, then a database engineer can write a programming script to do it. It’s a ...

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Levin and Coburn, toe to toe on Earmark Transparency Bill

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A Senate committee’s planned markup of an Earmark Transparency Bill was postponed until July after the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs briefly debated the bill this afternoon.

Though there was not enough committee members present to mark up the bill, that didn’t stop Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., from having a back-and-forth on the issue.

Levin said the bill could conflict with existing rules on Senate earmarks and said that aggregating thousands of earmark requests on a website would be burdensome and unworkable.

Coburn introduced the bill, S.3335, last month ...

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Earmark Transparency Act reaches first Committee

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The first Congressional discussion of the Earmark Transparency Act will take place today when the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs debates the bill at a business meeting at 2:30 p.m.

The bill, S.3335, was introduced last month by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., John McCain, R-Ariz., Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and would require a centralized, detailed, downloadable database that would track every earmark that members of Congress requested.

Earmarks are federal funds provided by Congress for projects that circumvent the merit-based or competitive allocation processes or curtail the executive branch from ...

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Reporter’s Notebook: How we got the latest FTA disappearmark data

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When we first reported about how we attempted to track down disappearmarks from the Federal Transit Administration, we recounted the difficulties in getting data in an electronic format. In response to our first Freedom of Information request, we were given a 121-page printout of a database, which in the end didn’t accurately include the information we sought: which SAFETEA-LU earmarks went unspent.

When our story ran, the FTA contacted us and said that one reason that FOIA requests are often returned in a printout and not a database form is to allow for the FOIA office to redact or ...

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Disappearmarks: Millions in SAFETEA-LU transit earmarks are unspent

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A sketch of what Rochester's Renaissance Square bus terminal would have looked like.

Nearly $120 million in Federal Transit Administration earmarks that were introduced and approved by Congress have sat untouched in FTA accounts for years and have now lapsed, according to an FTA list.

The list of unallocated earmarks, which the Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show that funds for these projects should have been used by September 30, 2009 at the latest, but due to various reasons, were never spent. (See spreadsheet below for the full list. Some projects appear ...

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Barton plans Florida Keys fundraiser; Apologizes to BP

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Texas Rep. Joe Barton, who apologized to BP’s chief executive Tony Hayward at a Congressional hearing today for having to create a $20 billion claims fund to help victims of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, is planning to host his “7th Annual Barton Family Fishing Trip & Florida Flats Fishing Tournament” the weekend of Oct. 15-18th on the island of Islamorada in the Florida Keys.

The event, which is in the Sunlight Foundation’s Political Party Time database of fundraising invitations, will be held at “the beautiful Cheeca Lodge & Spa” and the requested contribution to attend the ...

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Matching bundlers to fundraisers

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Here at the Reporting Group, we’ve always wanted to tie the fundraising invitations in our Party Time database to actual donations reported to the Federal Election Commission by a politician or a political action committee--to be able to show a donor gave money to a politician at a certain event.

It’s nearly impossible, and there's a number of reasons we can't--not least of which is that dates in FEC records don't necessarily correspond to the day a contribution was given. (See here for an explanation.) Even when there's a disclosure intended to shed light ...

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Disappearmarks: Buffalo’s Switcheroo saves earmark

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Congressman Brian Higgins (right) breaks ground with Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown on historic streets in the Buffalo Inner Harbor in September 2009. (Photo: http://www.buffalowaterfront.com)

Time was running out for an $11.8 million federal earmark to redevelop the Inner Harbor of the Buffalo River where it empties into Lake Erie. Like most earmarks, the recipient – the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation – had only three years to spend the funds before the money lapsed. In Buffalo, that meant the corporation had until October 2007, or else lose it for good.

There were once grand plans for the ...

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Search new Subsidyscope database on federal aid to nonprofits

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Subsidyscope nonprofit funding map.


In fiscal year 2008, the federal government gave $38 billion in grants to nonprofit entities and spent $10 billion on non-competed contracts with nonprofits. Billions were also taken in tax expenditures benefiting nonprofits, representing foregone revenues of $50 billion in 2008.

Excluding contracts, that means that the average U.S. household spent $430 a year on programs to nonprofit entities such as universities, hospitals and charities in 2008.

Loans and loan guarantees made by the government, known as risk transfers, also represent a subsidy. In 2008, the federal government lent at more than $7 billion to ...

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Case study in trying to analyze earmark data

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Each year, Congress allocates billions in earmarks that come in the form of annual appropriation committee requests or are attached to various bills that become law. The Sunlight Foundation thought it would be interesting to examine which earmarks, after all the Congressional debate and bluster has dispensed, actually get spent.

We thought a good example would be the $23 billion in transportation earmarks from SAFETEA-LU, The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users. The act authorized spending on highways, transit systems, port facilities, bus routes and other projects from its passage in August 2005 to what ...

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