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Hey, I’ve Got an Idea — What if the Senate Meets in Secret?

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Somewhere, someone got the exact wrong message. Voters do not want bipartisanship at the expense of openness. They want an end to corruption and secret deals. Senator Reid last week announced that he plans to hold a secret, bipartisan meeting on January 4th, so that the Democrats and Republicans could hash out their differences in secret. Voters, allegedly, were tired of "gridlock," and "consensus" could be best "forged" out of the public eye. This means that the first full session of the next Senate will be conducted out of the public eye. The protestations from all involved that no legislative business will be conducted only begs the question -- what exactly will be go on in this 100-person clambake?

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What is a Contact with a Member of Congress?

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We are pushing, as you may know, for a requirement that people who are paid to lobby should report all contacts with Members of Congress and their staff. As a person who is paid to lobby, among other things -- and trying to live up to our "report all contacts" proposal -- I am now in the weeds of trying to figure out what a "contact" is. Clearly, if I spend 20 minutes with an old friend gabbing because I am trying to butter him up for some radical Open Government ideas, that needs to be reported. But what if I send a substantive email to an old friend (who happens to be a key staffer for a new Senator) and get no response? The main reason lobbyists would not want to report unreturned phone calls and emails is that they are a little embarrassing, perhaps, but as citizens, do we care? We might -- if five lobbyists are all calling from the gas industry, perhaps the first call is unreturned, but the third call is returned because of the accretion of efforts to make contact. We all know that an unreturned phone call or email does not mean we didn't listen or read. On the other hand, if all emails and phone calls are listed, including those shot off with out punctuation -- "sounds good!" -- we get into the land of the absurd.

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Sunlight Foundation/Berkman Center Conference on Political Information

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On January 15th, the Sunlight Foundation and the Berkman Institute will be sponsoring a day long working session titled "Local Political Information in an Internet Era." The meeting will be hosted by the Berkman Institute in Cambridge, MA on the Harvard Law School Campus. We are interested in how the Internet -- through blogs and other tools -- can bring citizens more or better information about their elected officials. We have invited 10 bloggers who are focused on their own states' federal and local elected officials, and about the same number of people who are working on tools that these local bloggers can use -- tools like Congresspedia and Metavid (for getting video of Members of Congress).

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Open Lobbying Report 2

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Spoke to: Ron Weich, Senior Policy Person for Reid When: December 12 Where: Short Email exchange About Bills: S 2179, S 2180 About topics: 72 hour rule, Online filing, Lobbying Transparency Relations: I am not an ex-staffer, neice, mother, sister, or other relation to Ron, Reid, or any other Member of Congress, but I have worked with Ron, and respect him.

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Open Lobbying Begins: Report 1

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One of the priorities Sunlight has for the next Congress is improving public access to information about lobbyists -- who they meet with, who they call, what they call to talk about. Our position is that people who are paid to lobby should report what they lobby about, within 24 hours of the time of the lobbying. I am not a lobbyist per se, but I am paid, and I am lobbying: so, trying to walk the walk, I have already started out with a stumble, being a few hours late. Here's my first report: Spoke to: Ruchi Bowmak, Senior Policy Person for Obama When: December 12 Where: On the phone About Bills: S 2179, S 2180

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Open Congress Notes from Roots Camp

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This weekend, a few hundred democratic activists came together in DC for Rootscamp, a wiki-organized event to discuss the past and future of progressive online organizing. Congressional transparency was discussed extensively, as reported by Joshua Levy:

At a session called "Opening Up the Congress and Web 2.0," Matt Stoller led a discussion about ways to make the Senate and House more accountable and transparent using new technologies. The goal was to develop a set of recommendations for what congress should do to be more open and accountable using Web 2.0 tools. Many of the ideas discussed were similar to the goals of the Sunlight Foundation.

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Experiment in a New Kind of Distributed Work — Legislative Drafting

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As the Democrats and Republicans are drafting their Open Government Agendas, the people should be, too. We're throwing up a small experiment in engaging people in distributed research around legislative drafting. We have set up a web page with some basic Open Government principles on it, and are asking you to work with us to turn those principles into legislative language: http://www.moreperfect.org/wiki/index.php?title=Open_Government_Agenda This is a small testing of the waters -- I would love it if draft legislation came out of this, but I'm not counting on it. For now, we are not sending this out to our 3,900 person list, but please share it with people who might be interested and have feedback. Mostly, I hope to learn something about how to try this in the future.

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What Should We Do?

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Every day there are new rumors about what Congress will and will not do, but it appears that we have a specific opportunity to open up Congress in the first few months of the next year. The Democratic Leadership has announced that it is going to spend a week of floor time allowing members 15 minutes each to propose parcels of a transparency and reform Agenda.

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Global Transparency Roundup

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As the most corrupt country in the world (for business), you might not trust the new Freedom of Information law (passed yesterday) from Nigeria, but the spirit, at least, demonstrates that the thunderstorm of citizen demand for governmental transparency is cross-continental. Among other things, it provides a three year jail sentence for Governmental Officials who destroy documents requested by citizens. In other news, three major organizations (the Justice Initiative, ARTICLE 19, and Access Info Europe) are pushing for the Council of Europe to adopt a strong Freedom of Information Stance, demanding that a proposed information treaty:

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Shifting from Campaigning to Governing

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(Cross posted at NewAssignment.) When someone talks about “politics and the Internet,” they are probably talking about how candidates use Internet strategies to get elected like campaign blogs, campaign ads on YouTube, outreach on Myspace, building e-mail lists for volunteers and raising money. But most of political life happens outside of elections. The capacity to transform governance through the Internet is even greater than the capacity to transform elections. The Internet can change how legislation is prioritized, drafted, passed, implemented, and reviewed, and how elected officials interact with their constituents on a daily basis. The lists of volunteers built during campaigns can be mobilized to engage citizens in research, public education, and collecting stories from offline constituents.

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