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Eagle Eye Earns a Gold Star

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If the news from Washington tends to give you indigestion more often than it makes you feel good, here’s a story that should warm your heart with something other than heartburn. Eagle Eye Publishers, a for-profit research and consulting firm in northern Virginia did something recently that’s distinctly odd behavior in the business world – helping a non-profit prepare a free website that, at least at some levels, competes with their own subscription-only database designed for high-budget customers.

One of Eagle Eye’s premier products is their database of government contracts – a much cleaned-up version, and vastly easier to navigate, than the federal government’s own website.

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A Red Letter Day for Transparency

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Two questions were answered on Tuesday: what’s the government spending its money on, and what do members of Congress own.

And when I say answered, I don’t mean in a sound bite or a pie chart or a news conference, though there was one of those too. I mean virtually every question you could dream up about who’s getting federal government contracts and grants, or which companies members of Congress are investing in, you will now be able to answer yourself, in seconds, on the web.

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When Money Doesn’t Work

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One of the safest assumptions you can make in the world of politics is that the more money you have, compared to your opponent, the better your chances of winning. But even the safest assumptions are sometimes wrong, and there’s one special case where an abundance of money can do more harm than good: when the voters already know who you are, don’t like you, and find each new commercial an unpleasant reminder of exactly how much they don’t like you.

After all, annoying ads, repeated endlessly, don’t suddenly start working after the 50th viewing. They only build resentment, and that’s true whether the advertiser is a pain reliever or a political candidate.

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New Tools Coming Soon

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Forgive me for slacking off on the blogging this week. I’ve spent the last three days “inside” a new database – and you’re going to like it when it’s released in a couple of weeks.

Okay, I’ll admit to being a little weird when it comes to databases. I’ve always enjoyed digging into data, and for someone with such propensities there’s no greater thrill than the feeling that you’re looking over information that no one else has ever seen before. It’s like laying down a fresh set of footprints on an island or a continent that nobody knew was there. Well, except the “undiscovered” people who lived there before.

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Back to Business – GOP Leaders Wooing Lobbyists

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Well, you can’t accuse them of lacking chutzpah. In the waning days of the 109th Congress – a Congress marked by a notable lack of accomplishment – the GOP leadership has set aside time this coming Thursday not to pass the long-stalled lobbying reform bill, but rather to meet with friendly lobbyists and warn them that giving to Democrats is bad business.

A story in today’s Roll Call –  GOP Brass to Meet Lobbyists – has all the details:

“This is a straight-out appeal to [lobbyists] to contribute to Republicans — to remind them what Republicans do not only for their specific industries but for the whole business community,” said a GOP leadership aide. The aide added that the leaders would emphasize that “reports of the Republican majority’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, and we’re coming back.”

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Big Money Sticking with Incumbents

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If you’ve been reading the latest New York Times/CBS poll numbers – Only 25% in Poll Approve of Congress – you might well wonder why despite all this, political insiders remain so confident that only a tiny percentage of members will be defeated at the polls in November.

The answer lies in the two big assets incumbents have going for them this election year: safely drawn congressional districts and cold, hard cash. In fact, if 2006 is supposed to be a tougher-than-normal year for incumbents, somebody forgot to tell the interest groups that fund congressional campaigns.

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Tariff Suspensions: Download Your Own Data

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Thanks to the detective work of the Washington Post, the website of the US International Trade Commission, and the ingenuity of Sunlight’s computer wizards – thank you especially Kerry Mitchell – we’ve been able to put together a spreadsheet of all tariff legislation in the 109th Congress.

You can download it by clicking on the attachment link below. The file is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, which you can look at directly or easily import into the database program of your choice.

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Tracking Tariff Suspensions

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As my colleague Bill Allison has already pointed out, a page one story in today’s Washington Post – A Quiet Break for Corporations – pulls back the curtain on the little-known practice of tariff suspension bills introduced in Congress to help specific corporations.

Fortunately the story includes a link to the key source for their information on this, the website of the US International Trade Commission. If you dig through that site to this page you’ll find the complete list of tariff bills introduced in the 109th Congress, along with the sponsor, the date, and a description of the item for which the tariff is being suspended or reduced.

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Senate Reports on Paper? The Blogosphere Can’t Believe It!

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Yesterday’s K Street Confidential column in the Washington Post by Jeffrey Birnbaum seems to have ignited a brushfire in the blogosphere. Birnbaum’s subject for the day was the fact that candidates for the U.S. Senate – unlike anyone else at the federal level – still file their campaign reports on paper rather than electronically.

(This means weeks of delay in getting the information into a searchable format, and expending taxpayer funds to hand-input paper records from the campaigns into computer format. See my post from yesterday)

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Old Tricks Never Die (Or Even Fade Away)

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There’s a story in today’s New York Times about insurance giant AIG deftly avoiding New York state’s contribution limits by bundling their gifts to favored politicians through a network of little-known subsidiaries. The story brought back a flood of old memories for me; bundling through subsidiaries was one of the first tricks of the campaign finance game that I first observed in Alaska when I started tracking money in politics more than 20 years ago.

Here’s how it worked for AIG. New York State allows corporate contributions of up to $5,000. So back in 2003, when AIG wanted to give big money to Gov. George Pataki, for example, they wrote 18 checks on the same bank account – with consecutive check numbers – all listing different AIG subsidiaries as the donor. Grand total: $90,000 to the governor. (Click the attachment below for a chart showing the details.)

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