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A Buttoned Up CongressNow.com Launched by Roll Call

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Yesterday, Roll Call and Gallery Watch launched CongressNow.com, which will provide a daily (2:30 PM) report on the most recent legislative action in Congress. It could be a great tool for web journalists and citizens who want to follow Congress daily. There's a big problem: it requires a subscription. This is Congress, and people will find other ways to get the same information. There's a second problem once you're inside--the links to the bills are links to Gallery Watch descriptions of bills, which also requires a subscription. If CongressNow.com wants to become a hub for citizens using the web to learn about Congress--which it could--it should link, instead, to OpenCongress, our new, very free, open source tool that gives direct and contextual information about each bill, and allows citizens to contribute their own input.

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Sunshine Week Highlights

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Last week we tumbled into an early daylight savings with a blizzard across the east coast and Sunshine Week, starting with a contest and ending with a push to pass legislation. As Ellen Miller's email to members described, Sunshine Week was originally started in 2002 as a series of “Sunshine Sundays” by Florida editors who were opposed to rollbacks in Florida's sunshine laws. Those Sunshine Sundays stopped about 300 provisions from going forward. In the last five years, the week has become a national celebration of openness and a time to push aggressively for more of it, from typically non-political journalists and happily political bloggers. On the first day of Sunshine Week, over 500 papers printed articles and editorials about the need for more open government. Meanwhile, the always industrious Center for Responsive Politics issued several useful suggestions to increase government transparency and the ease of accessing government records.

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FOIA Amendments Pass House–In Senate Next Week

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The House passed HR 1309 on Wednesday, and a version of the same bill is in the Senate as S 894 (not yet on Thomas or Open Congress). Please write co-sponsors Leahy and Cornyn to let them hear your support. The bill would reduce delays in agency processing of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by: > Clarifying that FOIA requesters who are forced to bring legal action to push an agency to respond can become eligible to collect attorneys' fees when their suit is successful or is a catalyst for a change in the agency's position (the agency changes its position prior to judgment and releases documents).

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Sunshine Week Mashup Contest Reminder

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To celebrate Sunshine Week, the Sunlight Foundation is offering a $2,000 prize for the best "Web 2.0 Mashup" that displays information about Congress. The deadline is April 15th--we have only one entry so far, so your chances of winning $2000 are high, but start soon! Mashups will be judged on their creativity and how effectively they share information about Congress. We are looking for simple projects: earmarks on a map, vote history displayed in interesting ways, campaign contributions displayed interestingly. See details Continue reading

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Bill on FOIA Expansion in the House

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As early as this afternoon, Congress may be considering a bill to promote open government by strengthening FOIA. The Sunlight Foundation will be sending the following letter to Members of the House of Representatives today--we hope you join us and add your voice. To read--and track-- HR 1309, the bill referenced here, follow it on Open Congress.

We are writing in support of the Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 2007 (H.R. 1309). Transparent government is fundamental to democracy. We believe in the important promise of FOIA ­ an open government, with accessible information about government workings.

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Panel On Transparency in Congress 2 PM Today

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The National Press Club and the Sunlight Foundation are co-sponsoring a panel discussion that promises to be quite lively: What: Sunshine in the First Branch: How Transparent is Congress? When: 2 PM Where: Zenter Room, National Press Club Who: Mark Tapscott (Examiner), John Solomon (Washington Post), Jonathan Salant (Bloomberg), Bill Allison (Sunlight), Rafael Degennero (Read the Bill), Matt Stoller (MyDD, Open House Project). There is still room for attendees-please come and bring questions about how to investigate Congress, and ways in which Congress could be more transparent. The event is in celebration of Sunshine Week.

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Word on the Hill: Bush Will Reneg on Earmark Transparency Commmitment

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Today, OMB was going to release a list of earmarks. UPDATE: See the blog post above. Bill Allison talked to OMB about reasons for delay. From Mark Tapscott:

Word is circulating on the Hill that the Bush administration is going to release only a limited database of earmarks later today or maybe no database at all, but just aggregate or summary data. Seems the White House legislative staff fears releasing the database would offend members of the appropriation committees in Congress. So, the public gets the shaft, again, on a topic on which there is no doubt where the American people stand.

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Urgent Call to Action: Senate Hearing on Electronic Filing of FEC Reports

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The Senate Rules and Administration is holding a hearing on Wednesday on a bill that would require electronic filing of Senate FEC reports: http://rules.senate.gov/hearings/2007/031407hrg.htm This bill is long overdue -- candidates for the House already file electronically and the only reason to oppose it is that candidates don't want members of the public to know, at the time of filing, who has donated to their campaigns. We tried to get this into the lobbying reform bill in January and the Porkbusters coalition pushed on this late last year after the Coburn-Obama success. As we know from that effort certain elements were blocking the bill in committee. This is our chance to get the bill out of committee if we put enough pressure on the right committee members.

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Sunshine Week Starts Today

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Today is the first day of Sunshine Week, with over 500 papers printing articles and editorials about the need for more open government in the last 24 hours alone. Please, spread the news in the blogosphere -- make this the year that Sunshine Week becomes a rallying cry for bloggers who are looking to open up government. As AP CEO Tom Curley writes in a Q & A about Sunshine Week, this year is different than the last two years:

"The Sunshine Week momentum (in 2005 and 2006) forced elected officials to choose between public service or self service. We saw some very powerful officials become openly defiant of efforts to do the public's business in public. In a strange way they inspired a new generation of investigative reporters and stiffened the resolve of editors. Persistent reporters at local, state and federal levels helped save billions of dollars and even lives by what they were able to uncover last year.

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OMB Will Release Earmarks Database Monday

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The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is set to make public its earmark database on Monday, March 12. That should includes recipient name and address, earmark cost, description, an indication of whether or not the earmark is statutory or non-binding, and relevant bill or report language--this should provide great fodder for anyone interested in entering our Sunshine Week mashup contest. Thanks to Sean Davis of Coburn's office for the tip.

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