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Lobbying dollars continue to flow toward health care reform

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The President signed the health care reform bill in March, but over $125 million in lobbying dollars continues to flow to the issue, lobbying disclosure forms show. Total dollars spent lobbying on health care issues remained high in the three months after the reform bill was passed, dipping by only $16 million since the first quarter of the year.

State insurance commissioners are currently working out the details that will shape one of the first regulatory battles of health care reform: what percent of premiums health insurers must spend on patient care. And the health care industry is taking note ...

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States of Transparency: Colorado

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The Open Government Directive encouraged states to put valuable government data online. In this series we're reviewing each state's efforts in this direction.

This week: Colorado
Website: www.tops.state.co.us


File this under "Valiant attempts." When the state of Colorado created the government spending website TOPS (Transparency Online Project) in the fall of 2009, officials dutifully made every piece of data on the site downloadable. Unfortunately, while the idea is laudable, the execution is a little weak. The data is in XML format -- a handy format for computer programmers -- but isn't structured well enough to ...

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Senator given $100K round of applause by musicians’ group

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Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a lawmaker who moonlights as a classical pianist, was honored in June along with the likes of the co-writer of Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi." The senator was recognized not for his musical abilities, however, but for his support of the music industry. Alexander was the guest of honor at the National Music Publishers Association's annual meeting, an event attended by over 500 songwriters and music publishers -- and one that cost the organization over $100,000 to host, according to the "honararia" section of lobbying records filed with the Senate Office of Public Records.

Sen. Alexander ...

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States of Transparency: Alaska

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The Open Government Directive encouraged states to put valuable government data online. In this series we're reviewing each state's efforts in this direction.

This week: Alaska
Website: http://fin.admin.state.ak.us/dof/checkbook_online/reports.jsp


During her 2008 vice presidential bid, Sarah Palin touted Alaska's so-called "Checkbook Online" as a model of transparency. It's a great way to find out how the state is spending its money, but the site offers few other features. We can't find out how much cash state employees bring home because in Alaska, unlike in several other states ...

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States of Transparency: Missouri

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The Open Government Directive encouraged states to put valuable government data online. In this series we're reviewing each state's efforts in this direction.

This week: Missouri
Website: www.mapyourtaxes.mo.gov


Residents of Missouri who want a glimpse at their state's official checkbook have a great resource in the so-called Missouri Accountability Portal (MAP). It's lacking one important tool, however: an accounting of state revenues. Online since 2005, the site boasts real-time updates, full downloadability and checkbook-level details. While it could benefit from a couple of improvements -- such as a list of the dates purchases were ...

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Disappearmarks: How highway projects get left behind

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Pennsylvania's Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge.
(Photo courtesy of Leon Reed.)

In 1991 the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) received a $14.6 million federal earmark to reconstruct a highway interchange in downtown Mobile. After spending a portion of the funds on feasibility studies, engineers found that the project would require a great deal of additional federal and state money to complete. What’s more, their studies showed the proposed improvements would only increase highway speeds by an average of five miles per hour.

So they halted the project. And nineteen years later, $10.6 million of that original earmark remains unused ...

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Disappearmarks: Billions set aside for earmarks remain unspent

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Last week Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Colo., introduced a bill that would redirect some $700 million in funds that have been languishing in Transportation Department accounts, designated to fund projects earmarked by members of Congress more than a decade ago and long since forgotten.

Sunlight's Reporting Group has been tracking these "disappearmarks"--projects requested by members of Congress that are never completed--or, at times, even begun. In some cases, that's due to changes in federal programs, in others, due to local opposition, to projects being ineligible for the earmarked funds, or because state and local authorities simply couldn't ...

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States of Transparency: South Dakota

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The Open Government Directive encouraged states to put valuable government data online. In this series we're reviewing each state's efforts in this direction.

This week: South Dakota

Website: www.open.sd.gov

After an open records law passed last year, a South Dakota reporter was able to discover that a Canadian company was getting state tax incentives for building a crude oil pipeline. Democratic state representatives jumped on the issue as a lesson about secrecy in government. While the Freedom of Information Act-like law may be reaping rewards for state reporters, however, the state's transparency website will ...

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Lack of disclosure protects bad nursing home firms

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The pattern of understaffing at Skilled Healthcare Group's 22 California nursing homes could have raised red flags for patients and their families, but ownership information is currently difficult to obtain. The company has been ordered to pay $670 million for violating California state staffing minimums. A portion of the fee, the result of a class action lawsuit, is intended to refund patients for the quality of care they received.

Nursing Home Compare, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) site that allows the public to evaluate nursing home performance, does not yet identify the names of nursing home owners ...

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States of Transparency: New Jersey

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The Open Government Directive encouraged states to put valuable government data online. In this series we're reviewing each state's efforts in this direction.

This week: New Jersey

Website: www.nj.gov/transparency

               www.elec.state.nj.us

Six months after a corruption scandal that was lurid even by local standards, New Jersey's new governor boosted state transparency efforts in January with a new website. The site, www.nj.gov/transparency, publishes state spending and revenues, and although it received one of the lowest scores in the US Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG)'s recent survey of such sites, it has promise. What's more, the state also boasts an excellent campaign finance portal -- www.elec.state.nj.us.

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